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Buff-breasted Flycatcher Life History


Open Woodlands

Buff-breasted Flycatchers use dry pine-oak forests in broad mountain canyons, especially in the lower parts of the canyon near creeks or rivers. In the United States, they nest at relatively high elevations (6,400–9,350 feet), but farther south in the range they nest as low as about 2,000 feet. The understory where they nest usually includes grasses and scattered shrubs as well as saplings. They often occur in recently burned areas. Typical tree species in their habitat include Chihuahuan pine, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, Arizona white oak, alligator juniper, Arizona sycamore, Arizona walnut, big-toothed maple, and Douglas-fir. Migrants in northern Mexico occasionally turn up in lower-elevation oak, cottonwood, sycamore, and willow habitats. Wintering birds may also frequent riparian habitat at lower elevations and even thorn scrub.

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InsectsBuff-breasted Flycatchers capture insects in flight, usually making very short flights of a foot or two from a perch. They may perch quite near the ground but typically hunt from a perch in a tree. They usually return to the same perch once they have caught the insect. They sometimes fly down to the ground to seize an insect or spider, then return to the perch. Prey includes ants, wasps, bugs, beetles, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, damselflies, craneflies, and small spiders. Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeNests are set on branches of mature trees, about 25 feet above ground, often near the main trunk and usually under the shelter of another branch or stub.

Nest Description

The female constructs an oval cup nest of fine roots, grasses, conifer needles, and other leaves. To the outside of the cup they fasten feathers, leaves, lichen, maple seeds, and bark from the nest tree, held together with spiderweb. Nests average about 3.4 inches across and 2.4 inches tall, with interior cup 1.7 inches across and 1.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Egg Description:Creamy white.
Condition at Hatching:

Naked and helpless.

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FlycatchingFor such a tiny species, Buff-breasted Flycatchers are remarkably aggressive. Males return to set up territories in spring (late March to mid-April) in Arizona, singing through the morning and chasing males in adjacent territories to define and enforce their own territorial boundaries. They also chase away other species much larger than themselves, including Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbirds, Hepatic Tanagers, and bluebirds. Their territories stretch along canyon floors for roughly 130 feet and are variable in width. Once pairs are established, both male and female may chase or attack neighboring pairs. Males display to females by calling and moving around to suggest possible nest locations, which they demonstrate by crouching at the sites. The female selects a nest site by perching there, crouching, lifting the tail, and calling, also an enticement to mate. The female constructs the nest, while being closely followed by the male. Both male and female share incubation and chick-rearing duties. This species is usually socially monogamous, but in Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains, a male fed young in two nests that were about 165 feet apart. Family groups often remain together for several weeks after young have fledged. Wintering birds and migrants are usually solitary. Back to top


Low Concern

In Arizona, Buff-breasted Flycatcher populations have declined, and the species’ range contracted notably southward from the late 1800s through the 1970s. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million and rates the species a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. Fire suppression, overgrazing, and logging have probably resulted in population losses across the range of this species. It seems to benefit from low-severity fires that reduce brushy vegetation in the understory without killing larger trees.

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Bowers Jr., Richard K. and John B. Dunning Jr. (1994). Buff-breasted Flycatcher (Empidonax fulvifrons), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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