Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus)

The Least Flycatcher is a small songbird species known for its hawking behaviour; darting out from a branch to catch insects on the fly. You may not have seen a Least Flycatcher, but you likely have heard one and didn’t know it! This species is widespread in the Edmonton area, for now.

Least Flycatcher fledglings by Betty Fisher

Least Flycatcher fledglings by Betty Fisher

Why they Matter to Us

  • Least Flycatchers eat insects! They eat a variety of insects including midges, ants, flies, butterflies, beetles and even some mosquitoes.

  • They are sensitive to forest disturbance. This means they can be used as in indicator of environmental damage; if they aren't doing well, something is wrong in their environment.

  • In Canada and around the world, insectivorous birds like the Least Flycatcher are in steep decline. From 1970 to 2012, insectivorous bird populations in Canada declined an average of 70%. This is due to pesticide use, reductions in insect numbers, habitat loss, and climate change.

  • The Least Flycatcher is doing fairly well in the Edmonton area, but not as well in other parts of its range. 

How You Can Help

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk

  • Avoid using pesticides in your garden, and especially near water bodies.

  • Support protected areas in the Edmonton region (such as EALT!). You can donate or volunteer your time to help with conservation efforts.

  • Reduce your carbon footprint to reduce impacts of climate change on Least Flycatcher habitat.

How to Identify

Identify by Sight

To identify the Least Flycatcher, look for these distinguishing features:

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk.

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk.

  • Small size. The Least Flycatcher varies from 12-14 cm in length, has a wingspan of 20cm, and weighs around only 10g!

  • Olive gray body with a pale underside.

  • Yellowish to white wing bars.

  • Bold white eye ring.

  • Males are slightly bigger than females but the difference would not be noticeable in the wild.

To identify the Least Flycatcher as it flies by, look for these clues:

  • Undulating flight pattern.

  • Hawking behaviour: perching on a branch and darting out to catch insects before returning to perch again.

Identify by Sound

The Least Flycatcher, along with several others in the Empidonax genus, are virtually identical by color. The best way to tell apart these species is by song. You can hear the “Chebek! Chebek!” of the Least Flycatcher echoing through almost any forest in the Edmonton area. They may also make a shrill scream to indicate stress or danger.

  • Click here to listen to the many sounds of a Least Flycatcher.

Where to Find

Least Flycatchers can be found in forests across North America, from Mexico to the boreal forest. They prefer mid successional to mature deciduous forests with some shrubs and some open space in the understory. You could find them in almost any forested area in the Edmonton region.

In the winter, the Least Flycatcher migrates to Central America, so you will only find them in the Edmonton area from May until September.

Social Life

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk

Photo by Gerald Romanchuk

  • They are a migratory species and regularly spend winters in Central America

  • Males attract a female to a potential territory by singing

  • The female builds a nest over the course of 5-7 days

  • Babies are born altricial; helpless with eyes closed

  • They nest in clusters of up to 30 territories. This could provide safety for inner territories as well as extra mating opportunities for all.

Food Chain

  • They eat insects of all sorts, including: midges, ants, flies, butterflies, beetles, and mosquitos.

  • Their eggs can be predated by other birds such as red-winged blackbird, gray catbird, grackle, crows and magpies, and small mammals including red squirrel

  • Small owls like Saw-whet or Pygmy could eat adult Least Flycatchers

Fun Facts

  • It takes the Least Flycatcher 58 days to finish all aspects of breeding, including finding a mate, building a nest, laying eggs, and raising nestlings to independence

  • The oldest known flycatcher was 8 years old when caught during banding in Virginia!


Help conserve homes for Least Flycatchers by donating to EALT today!