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Least Flycatcher

Empidonax minimus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Least Flycatchers are one of the grayish olive flycatchers in the often confusing Empidonax group, but they're one of the easier ones to identify. Their small size, bold white eyering, and distinctive chebec song set them apart. During the summer, they congregate in clusters in deciduous forests and sing incessantly. They may be little, but they don't let other birds push them around, sometimes chasing species as large as Blue Jays. Though they are common, they lost more than half of their population since 1970.

Keys to identification Help

Flycatchers
Flycatchers
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Least Flycatchers are the smallest Empidonax flycatcher in the East. Like other flycatchers they tend to perch upright, but they appear a little more compact than most. The primary feathers on their wings are short, which makes their thin tail look longer. Their head is round and is not peaked at the back of the head like some other Empidonax.

  • Color Pattern

    Least Flycatchers are grayish olive above with a dusky breast. Their head is grayish olive as well with a bold white eyering. They have a very faint yellow wash to the belly and 2 white wingbars.

  • Behavior

    Least Flycatchers congregate in clusters in deciduous forests during the breeding season. They sing incessantly throughout the summer, tossing their head back with each chebec. They tend to flit from perch to perch among dead branches in the middle to upper level of the forest canopy.

  • Habitat

    Least Flycatchers breed in deciduous and mixed forests of all ages including second-growth and mature forests. These forests tend to have a few shrubs or small saplings in the understory and a well-developed canopy.

Range Map Help

Least Flycatcher Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Least Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Small flycatcher
    • Bold white eye-ring
    • Double white wing-bars
    • Mostly slaty gray above, whitish below
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Spring Lake, Texas, September 2011
  • Adult

    Least Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Small, compact gray flycatcher
    • Rounded head
    • White eye-ring
    • Double white wing-bars
    • © Guy Lichter, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, May 2012
  • Juvenile

    Least Flycatcher

    Juvenile
    • Small, round-headed flycatcher
    • Eye-ring less distinct on some individuals, but always present
    • Dull slaty gray above, whitish below
    • Juveniles show darker, tawnier wing-bars than adults
    • © Cameron Rognan, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, August 2008
  • Juvenile

    Least Flycatcher

    Juvenile
    • Small, dull-colored flycatcher
    • Compact structure, with short wings and narrow tail
    • White eye-ring
    • Juvenile similar to adult but with more tawny/olive wing-bars
    • © Cameron Rognan, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, August 2008
  • Adult

    Least Flycatcher

    Adult
    • Small, round-headed flycatcher
    • White eye-ring
    • Very short wings with bright white wing-bars
    • Dull slaty gray above, whitish below
    • © Andy Jordan, Decker Prairie, Texas, August 2011

Similar Species

Similar Species

Species in the genus Empidonax look very similar—voice, range, and habitat can be more useful than appearance when separating them. In general, Least Flycatchers are slightly smaller than other Empidonax flycatchers in the East, with less yellow on the belly. Their distinctive song, a fast chebec, is often the best way to identify them.

Alder and Willow Flycatchers have narrower eyerings than Least Flycatchers. During the breeding season, habitat is helpful: Alder and Willow Flycatchers use brushy wet areas with alders and willows, while Least Flycatchers occur in deciduous forests. Alder and Willow Flycatchers also sing different songs.

Acadian Flycatchers are slightly larger with more of a greenish cast to them than Least Flycatchers. Their eyering is also narrower than Least Flycatcher’s.

Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are more yellow-olive overall with a yellowish throat and belly compared to the whitish throat and belly of Least Flycatchers.

Eastern Wood-Pewees are larger and have a grayer belly with a vested look that Least Flycatchers lack.

Backyard Tips

Least Flycatchers aren't your typical backyard breeder, but they may stop by your yard during migration. Learn how to provide migration habitat for these and other migrants by visiting Habitat Network.

Learn more about creating a forest patch for Least Flycatchers and other birds at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

Least Flycatchers make their presence known with their incessant chebecs during the breeding season. To find them, take a walk in a deciduous forest in the northern U.S. and Canada, and listen for their very short 2-note song. Don't be alarmed if you don't hear them right away; they nest in clusters so there might be stretches of forest without any Least Flycatchers. But once you come across a cluster, there will likely be several about. They generally catch insects from branches in the middle to upper levels of the forest and frequently change perches, so look up for quick movements. On migration, these flycatchers may be silent and hard to tell from other Empidonax—look for their small size and bold eyering.

You Might Also Like

Confusing Flycatchers? Use Migration Timing To Your Advantage, eBird, April 20, 2011.

When Does A Songbird Migrate? Depends On What It Eats, All About Birds, October 15, 2015.

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