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Category:Empidonax - BirdForum Opus

Genus: Empidonax


Small drab flycatchers with wing bars and eye rings.


Empidonax is a genus in the family Tyrannidae.


This is notoriously difficult and compounded by the fact that distributions of many species extensively overlap. In general it's best done by call. However, Dr Cin-Ty Lee and Andy Birch provide characteristics which in combination can identify many individuals (summarised and expanded below). The westerly distributed Gray Flycatcher overlaps the least with other north american species. Pacific-slope Flycatcher (west) and Acadian Flycatcher (east) occur on opposite sides of the continent.

Similar species

Pewees and especially Western Wood Pewee / Eastern Wood Pewee have much longer primary projections than empids---as does Olive-sided Flycatcher. These species are often greyer, drabber, duller (!) than empids, and larger with a more elongated, less squat appearance. The pewees have less contrast between the white throat and the underparts, and a weak or absent eye ring. Their bills are very large. Pewee wingbars are thin with low contrast (barely visible).

Immature or worn Eastern Phoebe can recall Alder / Willow Flycatcher and be quite brown. Note all dark bill, head often clearly darker than body, near absence of anything like wing bars. (If wing bars are present they can be bright cinnamon-coloured.)

Characters to concentrate on

  • overall: general colour. Ranges from grey to yellow to tawny brown
  • crown: general shape of the crown (from flattish to crested)
  • forehead: relative angle of the forehead upwards from the bill
  • eye-ring: distinctness and shape
  • bill: how large, long
  • lower mandible: varies from all dark to all orange/pale
  • throat and undersides: (lack of) / contrast between the throat and undersides
  • wingbars: how distinct from the rest of the wing / mantle
  • wing panel contrast: from the rest of the wing / mantle
  • primary extension: from short to long
  • tail: from short, fat to long, narrow. May be difficult to judge

Identifying Empidonax flycatchers
species overall crown forehead eye-ring bill lower mandible throat and undersides wingbars wing panel contrast primary extension tail
White-throated Flycatcher tawny brown round shallow indistinct but thin crisp medium variable more or less contrasting whitish throat which may extend back under auriculars variable: brown no: pale (brown) tertial fringes short short, fat: pale outer vanes
Willow Flycatcher tawny brown (often browner than Alder) peaked shallow indistinct or none medium to large orange medium contrast throat. Underparts whitish or browny yellow dull no medium short, fat
Alder Flycatcher dull tawny brown round shallow to medium indistinct but thin crisp medium to large paler than upper medium contrast greyish, whitish or yellowish throat medium to bright strong medium short, fat
Acadian Flycatcher greenish-brown peaked shallow crisp; not white large orange: tip may be dusky white contrasting throat, undersides (can be yellowish) bold yes long medium, fat
Yellowish Flycatcher tawny yellow crested shallow distinct, tear-dropped, yellowish medium to large orange low contrast lighter yellow throat. Underparts greyish yellow to ochre dull no: all flight feathers have brownish fringes medium short, fat: yellowish outer vanes
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher dull greenish yellow round steep crisp; lemon small to medium orange low contrast yellow throat and undersides bold yes long short, narrow
Pacific slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher greeny yellowish crested medium distinct, tear-dropped; lemon medium orange low contrast throat. Overall yellow/yellow-brown colouration above and below strong no: tertial fringes may be obvious medium medium, narrow
Gray Flycatcher greyish, or brownish-grey flat shallow indistinct and messy; off-white large orange: tip may be dusky low contrast pale grey throat and undersides. Sometimes yellowish lower belly, vent dull no short long, narrow, droops slowly downward; white outer feathers
Pine Flycatcher greyish: mantle rarely brownish crested medium distinct, tear-dropped, white medium to large bright orange low contrast whitish or greyish throat with similar chest and belly. Whitish vent medium no: tertials may lack pale fringes medium to long medium, widens from narrow base; white outer vanes
Dusky Flycatcher greyish: mantle sometimes greeny-brownish flat to round medium indistinct and messy; off-white small to medium dark low contrast pale grey throat and chest. Underparts grey, can be brownish dull no short medium, narrow
Hammond's Flycatcher greyish: mantle sometimes greeny-brownish rounded to peaked very steep bold, messy: whitish small dark (mostly) low contrast grey throat, chest. Underparts greyish perhaps with brownish, yellowish medium no long short, narrow
Least Flycatcher greyish: mantle generally brownish round medium bold but messy; white small flesh to orange; tip may be dusky white contrasting throat, central chest, belly. Underparts otherwise greyish/yellowish bold yes short to medium short, narrow

(Biggest sources for above: reference [1], Ebird/Macauley images novel analysis)

Other species are usually distinctive. Buff-breasted Flycatcher has ochre-buff face and breast. Black-capped Flycatcher has a black cap (sometimes blackish face)


  1. PDF by Dr Cin-Ty Lee from his website (although not directly referenced there). [1]

Genus Empidonax viewedit
E. flaviventris Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
E. virescens Acadian Flycatcher
E. alnorum Alder Flycatcher
E. traillii Willow Flycatcher
E. albigularis White-throated Flycatcher
E. minimus Least Flycatcher
E. hammondii Hammond's Flycatcher
E. wrightii Gray Flycatcher
E. oberholseri Dusky Flycatcher
E. affinis Pine Flycatcher
E. difficilis Pacific-slope Flycatcher
E. occidentalis Cordilleran Flycatcher
E. flavescens Yellowish Flycatcher
E. fulvifrons Buff-breasted Flycatcher
E. atriceps Black-capped Flycatcher