Monday, June 18, 2012

Willow Flycatcher and the Challenge of Empidonax Flycatchers

Amazingly, Willow Flycatchers were not on my life list.
I've seen many of the empidonax flycatchers over the last few years, but have reluctantly added them to my life list, because to be honest, I felt that adding them would be insincere. I'm not alone in this confusion. I was happy to know that even bird banders at the Holiday Beach banding station in the fall admitted to not knowing which of Alder/Willow a flycatcher in hand was. In fairness, it did not vocalize and the wing length ratios did not help either. The bander marked it down as a "Trails" flycatcher. Even the whole North American birding community was unable to realize the distinction between the species before the 1970s! So this week, as I was walking the Ojibway Tallgrass Prairie, I was happy to hear a very loud, clear, distinct, raspy and scratching "Fitz-bew!" and was able to take the above photo of it. I even took video, so that I could really go back and compare the sound in my video to the sounds of the Willow Flycatcher page on

Its been said that the flycatchers are a very prehistoric bird. Their simple foraging strategy has served them well. Perch, wait for bugs to fly by and catch them, then return to your perch in a predictable looping flight pattern. This behavior along with their simple call is built into their DNA. Cornell University's site states: "Flycatcher songs are innate, not learned like those of most songbirds. Young Willow Flycatchers reared in captivity with Alder Flycatcher tutors sang typical Willow Flycatcher songs" ( That is a very cool thought!

I think Flycatchers (and Gulls) might offer some of the most challenging identification problems to birders, so I would image that they are the last area that birders venture into. If you have the time, treat yourself to a quick scan of the following two or three links. This will really help you appreciate how greatly differentiated the flycatcher family is!

Here is an incredible list of South American Flycatchers:

And a much shorter list of North Amercan Flycatchers:

Here are some Flycatchers I've seen and photographed over the last two or three years:
Least Flycatcher Holiday Beach (Fall 2010)
Yellow bellied Flycatcher - Point Pelee (Fall 2011)
Eastern Wood Peewee - Common in Eastern Deciduous Forests
Eastern Kingbird - Common and obvious to identify
Great Crested Flycatcher - Local breeder, but not often seen.
Western Kingbird in Windsor -Summer 2011
Western Wood Pewee (BC -Summer 2011)

Eastern Phoebe - An early Spring migrant
Vermilion Flycatcher, often seen in Belize, Mexico and SW US
Say's Phoebe - A western beauty

Some Flycatcher Notes:



Eastern Wood Peewee

Pee- yaweeeee (whistled)

Common Summer breeder in Essex Co.

Willow Flycatcher

Fitz-bew (buzzy
and rhaspy)

Summer breeder in Essex Co.

Alder Flycatcher

Free Bee Yeer (buzzy
and rhaspy)

More common north of Essex Co (Carden Alvar Breeder)

Acadian Flycatcher


Breeds in large tracts of forest (Rondeau,
Skunks Misery)

Least Flycatcher


Seen in migration

Yellow Bellied Flycatcher


Seen in migration

Great crested Flycatcher


Essex breeder at Ojibway and Point Pelee. Not easily found in my experience.

Olive sided Flycatcher


Have not seen one yet. Migrates late in May in a small window of time
(usually while I’m working).

*Some call descriptions referenced from (Kaufman)


Wheatley Dickcissels & Other Pelee Area Birds

This Saturday, I woke up early and birded Wheatley, Hillman Marsh, Point Pelee and Leamington (each very briefly) and was able to get good looks at Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, among others.
Wheatley gave nice looks at Dickcissels & Savannah sparrows. While scanning though, I was unable to find more than singles of the aforementioned birds. Robins and Red winged Blackbirds were abundant.

Savannah Sparrow
Hillman Marsh Grassland Birds
Bobolinks, Dickcissels, Indigo Buntings, Yellow Warblers and Willow Flycatchers were seen at Hillman Marsh.

Willow Flycatcher... singing next to Hillman Marsh Parking Lot

Point Pelee & Leamington
Point Pelee's Delaurier Trail at Point Pelee had Eastern Bluebirds, Orchard Orioles, Rose breasted Grosbeck, Cedar Waxwings, Black billed Cuckoo among other more common birds. Leamington docks had Red headed Woodpeckers (two pairs?) and a Northern Mockingbird!

I would love to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher one day. Perhaps a quick trip to Texas is in order... Probably not going to happen any time soon.

Good Birding,

Kaufman, Ken. Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print., Willow Flycatcher, Cornell University, ND, WEB, June 17th 2012,

Life list summary: Willow Flycatcher 301


  1. ohh, I love the flycatcher chart - thanks! Hope you're staying cool in this good ole Essex County weather!

  2. Find us a Say's Phoebe! Many of us still need that one....



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...