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Western Flycatcher Life History



Western Flycatchers breed in shaded coniferous or mixed mountain forests, usually near creeks, streams, or rivers. Such habitats, with both water and gaps of light in the forest, provide not just an abundance of insects and foraging perches but also nest sites. This species favors steep-sided ravines and canyons and sometimes nests on the sides of canyons rather than in trees.

Western Flycatchers also select shaded habitats on migration. This flycatcher’s wintering ecology is poorly known, but the species uses several different forest types—deciduous, pine-oak, montane evergreen, tropical lowland evergreen, and gallery—in Mexico during the winter.

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Western Flycatchers eat mostly insects that they capture in flight or pick from vegetation. They hunt largely from the interior of trees or large shrubs, usually near the middle of the tree, flying out to catch insects beneath the canopy. Most of their foraging occurs within 30 feet of the ground, and sometimes they pluck insects from the ground. Prey includes beetles, bugs, wasps, bees, flies, moths, leafhoppers, and spiders. They also eat elderberries and blackberries.

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Nest Placement


The nest is set in trees, large shrubs, cavities, banks, and root masses of overturned trees, or on buildings, bridges, and other artificial structures. Most nests are supported both from below and on one side.

Nest Description

The female builds an elaborate cup nest utilizing spiderweb to bind bark strips, leaves, grass stems, moss, and lichen to the exterior. She lines the interior with grass and hair, and sometimes with human-made materials like paper, string, or yarn. The nest measures about 4.7 inches across, with the interior cup 2 inches across and 1.1 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.7 in (1.42-1.88 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.25-1.42 cm)
Incubation Period:13-16 days
Nestling Period:15-18 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white with brown spotting concentrated at the larger end.

Condition at Hatching:

Naked and helpless.

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Like other flycatchers of the genus Empidonax, males sing to mark a territory and attract a mate. They quickly chase other males that enter the territory (as well as other species of small flycatchers). Males sing frequently until they find a mate, then sing mostly at daybreak as nesting begins. Courtship displays are not known. In the “Pacific-slope” group, females build the nest alone and perform all incubation duties. Both parents feed nestlings.

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Low Concern

According to the North American Bird Breeding Survey, Western Flycatcher populations have declined an estimated 0.45% per year from 1966–2021, for an overall decline of 28% during that time. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 13.1 million Western Flycatchers and rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Loss of mountain coniferous forest habitat, both on breeding and wintering grounds, poses the most significant conservation threat to this species.

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Lowther, Peter E., Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2016). Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lowther, Peter E., Peter Pyle and Michael A. Patten. (2016). Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2021). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2021.

Rush, A. C., R. J. Cannings and D. E. Irwin. (2009c). Analysis of multilocus DNA reveals hybridization in a contact zone between Empidonax flycatchers. Journal of Avian Biology 40 (6):614-624.

Sauer, J.R., Link, W.A., and Hines, J.E., 2022, The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Analysis Results 1966 - 2021: U.S. Geological Survey data release,

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

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Learn more at Birds of the World