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Hammond's Flycatcher Life History



Hammond’s Flycatchers nest only in mature and old-growth coniferous and mixed forests of western North America. Here they inhabit fir, pine (especially ponderosa and lodgepole), Douglas-fir, larch, birch, and aspen forests, which often have tanoak, maple, dogwood, alder, or other deciduous elements, mostly in the understory. Their nesting habitats have plenty of canopy openings. In spring and fall (usually earlier in spring and later in fall than Dusky Flycatcher), migrating Hammond’s pass through virtually all habitats of the West, from stream corridors, chaparral, and deserts up through middle elevations to treeline. Even green spaces in large cities may host a few migrants. On the wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America, this species remains in cool montane forests, mostly fir, pine, or pine-oak habitats, similar to their breeding grounds.

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Hammond’s Flycatchers eat mostly insects. They perch quietly, scanning the environment, then fly quickly upward or outward to capture insects in midair. Especially during the early part of the breeding season, they also flutter out to pluck insects from the vegetation, sometimes sallying to catch them as they would a flying insect, sometimes hovering briefly to glean them. Prey items include butterflies, moths, caterpillars, bugs, flies, and beetles. The birds return to their perch to consume their prey, sometimes first removing the wings or whacking it against a branch. In some areas, Hammond’s Flycatchers shift their foraging height during the breeding months, using middle and higher levels early and lower levels (such as understory plants) later in the season.

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Nest Placement


The female selects the nest site, often trying out a spot by hopping around, fluttering the wings, and pivoting the body while calling. Nests are set on a large limb well away from the trunk, about 25 feet above the ground but sometimes up to 50 feet, usually in a conifer.

Nest Description

The female gathers nesting material and builds the nest alone, a neat, compact cup of grass, plant fibers, lichen, and bark lined with material such as hair, leaves, rootlets, feathers, or string, held together with spiderweb. Nests average about 3.4 inches across and 2.1 inches tall, with interior cup about 2.2 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.6-0.7 in (1.61-1.79 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.25-1.39 cm)
Incubation Period:15-16 days
Nestling Period:17-18 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white, sometimes marked sparingly with small reddish-brown dots.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless, eyes closed.

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Once arrived on the breeding grounds, male Hammond’s establish a territory (about 2.6 acres) by singing from perches around the territory. Like many other “empids” (flycatchers of the genus Empidonax), the male sings vigorously through much of the day until he finds a mate. Females may signal interest by perching near the males and calling (soft pip calls), and males respond by calling and landing next to the females, fluttering the wings. Hammond’s Flycatchers appear to be monogamous in their mating system. Only the female incubates the eggs, but both members of the pair feed the young. Male and female defend the territory against other Hammond’s and sometimes against other Empidonax species that enter the territory near the nest. Aerial chases are common, but physical combat is less frequent.

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Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Hammond’s Flycatcher populations grew by about 0.8% per year between 1968 and 2015. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million and rates the species a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. The species' preference for mature forests (minimum age of 80 to 90 years) of at least 25 acres suggests that logging of mature and old-growth forests adversely affects this species. Deforestation of wintering habitats is also a cause for conservation concern in the case of this and many other songbird species.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sedgwick, James A. (1994). Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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

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