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Willow Flycatcher

Empidonax traillii ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TYRANNIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Willow Flycatchers are drab brownish-olive birds that are best known for their voice—a sneezy fitz-bew that emanates from wet willow thickets across North America. They’re one of the infamous Empidonax flycatchers, a name virtually synonymous with difficult ID. Look for them singing their distinctive song on top of willows and other shrubs in early summer just after they arrive from Central and South America where they spend the winter. Although they’re common across the United States, the Southwestern subspecies is federally endangered.

Songs

Flycatcher songs are often the key to their identity and this one sings a hoarse fitz-bew from high perches in their territory. They also sing a burry zip, which sounds similar to someone quickly zipping up a jacket. Each song lasts for less than 1 second, but they repeat each one over and over. Males do most of the singing, but females also sing on occasion, though their songs tend to be quieter.

Calls

  • Song, call
     
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Willow Flycatchers call with a soft, dry whit.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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

Find This Bird

The best time to go looking for a Willow Flycatcher is late May through June, shortly after they arrive on the breeding grounds and when singing is at its peak. Look for them in wet meadows, perching on top of or low at the edges of willows and other shrubs. Males tend to sit and sing from the same spot, so you'll have time to zero in on their location. It is possible to see them outside of the breeding season, but they can be much harder to identify if they are not singing. If you see a silent flycatcher during migration, the timing of your sighting can help narrow down your choices—Willow Flycatchers tend to arrive later in the spring than other Empidonax flycatchers.

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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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