Connecticut Audbon Society

125th Anniversary

Daily Bird nesting season special: Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher. Photo by Cephas, from Wikipedia Commons.

June 14, 2022

Alder Flycatcher
Empidonax alnorum

by Andrew Griswold, EcoTravel Director
A small hunter of insects, the Alder Flycatcher is one of the interesting members of the Tyrant flycatcher family. The Empidonax genus within this family is made up of nondescript dull olive individuals who are most reliably differentiated from one another by their unique songs and calls.

Alder Flycatcher is very difficult to separate from Willow Flycatcher, other than by voice, as these two species were once considered one under the name Traill’s Flycatcher.

Look for this bird in appropriate habitat, but first be sure you know its song and calls. That’s likely to be the first way you’ll detect this somewhat secretive species.

Alder Flycatcher’s song is a distinctive wheezed (harsh, burry) ree-BEE-a.  The call is a short preet or whistled pew and peewi.

Listen to them here.

Adult birds are dull olive-brown above, dark and browner on the wings and tail. Below they are whitish olive-grey, and distinctly paler than above. Two whitish wing bars are obvious, as is the bi-colored grey and orangish beak when at close range. (That’s a lot of “ishes!”) Some individuals will display a narrow pale eye-ring.

Breeding habitat for Alder Flycatcher (as well as a good place to look for them in migration) is deciduous thicket, which may include alders or willow swamps, streamside and lakeside thickets, and second-growth forests. Sites are always near water. They make a cup-like nest, usually low in a fork of a woody shrub, always with nesting material hanging off the sides, unlike the neater construction of the Willow Flycatcher.

There have been a good number of reports of this species this year in Connecticut. Most come from west of the Connecticut River, as you can see in the accompanying eBird map.

It’s likely the habitat west of the river is more widely available or there is some subtle difference. Alder Flycatcher are very specific in their selection, which may also be influenced by the composition of the insect population. The composition may vary from west to east and obviously does north to south.

To some degree, there may be less coverage by birders looking for this species east of the river, but if you are looking and listening in alder swamps, you should find the bird.

The breeding range of Alder Flycatcher is nearly all of Canada, Alaska, and the northeastern United States, overall, more northerly than Willow Flycatcher. The range extends south along the Appalachian Mountains. Fall migration is to South America and the tropics, where again, they are usually found not far from water.

One often finds Alder Flycatcher as it perches to survey its domain, “hawking” insects with the energy of a true hunter. On occasion, this bird will hover more daintily as it gleans insects from vegetation. In migration, they will eat berries and seeds.

The Alder Flycatcher is widespread but local because of its habitat requirements. It is not “a species of concern” but it is important to protect these habitats for the continued success of this species






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