Least Flycatcher Life History

Habitat

Habitat ForestsDuring the breeding season, Least Flycatchers are most common in semiopen deciduous and mixed forests of all ages, but sometimes they use shrubby fields and forest edges. In winter, they use woodland edges, forested ravines, shrubby areas, and pasture edges in Central America, typically below 3,200 feet elevation along the Pacific coast or below 5,000 feet along the Caribbean slope. In Mexico they also use tropical evergreen forest. Back to top

Food

Food InsectsInsects make up the majority of the Least Flycatcher's diet. They catch ants, beetles, flies, butterflies, and leafhoppers in midair or pick them off vegetation generally less than 50 feet above the ground. Occasionally they also eat black elderberry, blackberries, and grass seeds. Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeMales and females choose where to put the nest shortly after they pair. They pick a deciduous tree with an upright fork in the lower to middle canopy anywhere from 2–50 feet above the ground.

Nest Description

Female Least Flycatchers weave together strips of bark, grasses, plant fibers, and spiderwebs to form a compact cup nest. They line the nest with fine grasses, animal hair, feathers, and downy plant material. Sometimes they steal bits of nesting material from nests of other species nearby. It takes them about 5–7 days to build a nest that is around 2.5 inches wide and 2 inches tall.

Nesting Facts
Egg Description:Creamy white, unmarked.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with only small patches of down.
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Behavior

Behavior FlycatchingLeast Flycatchers may be small, but they are quick to quarrel with any bird, no matter their size, that enters their territory. They frequently chase American Redstarts, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and even Blue Jays, which are more than twice their size, out of their territory. Males also fluff up their feathers, extend their wings, and flick their tails from a crouched position to threatened an intruder. On the breeding grounds, they nest in clusters, creating a flycatcher neighborhood with anywhere from 2 to 30 territories per cluster. Males in the best condition often get the center territory and they are the first ones in the neighborhood to pair. Males and females perform a perch-hopping dance during courtship, followed by silent flights through the territory and, eventually, mating. Males in the center of the neighborhood venture toward the border to mate with additional females, a behavior known as extra-pair mating. Females also seek extra-pair matings from nearby males, and their desire to seek more mates may be one reason why they nest in clusters. Nests in the center of the neighborhood tend to have a lower risk of nest predation, which could be another reason why they nest in clusters. Predators that enter a neighborhood are met with alarm calls that may persuade them to leave the area. On the wintering grounds, males and females defend separate territories with songs and calls. Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Common Bird in Steep DeclineLeast Flycatchers are common across the East, but their populations have declined sharply, by about 53% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 33 million. Though they are common, they are a Common Bird in Steep Decline and have a Continental Concern Score of 11 out of 20. If current rates of decline continue, Least Flycatchers will lose another half of their remaining population within the next 42 years, according to Partners in Flight estimates. Least Flycatchers appear sensitive to forest disturbances that create openings in the forest or alter the understory such as logging and excessive deer browsing. Back to top

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.

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Credits

Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Karlson, Kevin and D Rosselet. 2015. Birding by Impression. Living Bird no. 25:34-42.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2016. The State of North America's Birds 2016. Environment and Climate Change Canada: Ottawa, Ontario.

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

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

Tarof, Scott and James V. Briskie. 2008. Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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