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Least Flycatcher
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Least Flycatcher

Empidonax minimus (Baird and Baird)

Status Fairly common in summer. Breeds. This species arrives a little earlier than the Alder Flycatcher (average 14 May, earliest 4 May; see earlier occurrences of unidentified Empidonax under the Alder Flycatcher). It is found throughout the province during breeding season, perhaps more frequently in the Annapolis Valley than elsewhere. Movements of this species with the Alder Flycatcher are conspicuous in late August and early September, with stragglers reported on Seal Island on 19 October 1973 and at Glace Bay on 20 October 1981.

Description Length: 12.5-14.5 cm. Adults: Grayish olive above; wings and tail dark brown, wings showing two white bars; underparts light gray, which is somewhat darker on breast, with a suggestion of sulphur-yellow on sides and belly; conspicuous white eye ring.

Breeding Nest: Compact and symmetrical; constructed of grasses, plant down and other fine vegetable matter, and usually placed in the crotch of a deciduous tree (rarely saddled on a horizontal limb) at heights of 1-8 m or more. In the apple belt of the Annapolis Valley, probably the majority of nests are built in apple trees; I have never known one to be placed in a conifer.

Eggs: 3-5, usually 4; white. Laying begins late in May and continues well into June. A set of four slightly incubated eggs was examined on 3 June 1894 in a nest about 3 m up in an apple tree in an orchard. Another nest containing four eggs was found on 26 June 1913 about 3.5 m up in an elm tree. A nest containing five nearly fresh eggs was seen on 20 June 1922 at Wolfville; the location was unusual because the nest was not more than 1 m off the ground and was saddled on the low bough of a large apple tree. I have no evidence that this bird attempts to raise more than one brood each year: a nest found on 22 August 1929 containing young about ready to fly suggests the possibility but may simply have been a second nesting attempt, the first attempt having failed.

Range Breeds from west-central Mackenzie Valley to northern Nova Scotia and, in the east, south to the mid-eastern United States. Winters from northeastern Mexico to Panama.

Remarks This bird is usually seen in orchards, shady groves and open woodlands, sitting erectly on a dead twig in the open with its tail pointed slightly inward. From this perch it makes frequent sallies after winged insects that pass within its range. Having snapped up its victim, it returns immediately to the same twig, jerks its head back and, with fluttering wings, says che-bec repeatedly and with such earnestness and clear enunciation that the watcher cannot fail to be impressed. It resembles its larger cousin, the Eastern Wood-Pewee, in shape and colour but is not readily confused with any other of our garden birds. When seen in remote wooded areas, as it is less frequently, its voice and small size will identify it. Other field marks, useful for silent migrating birds, are mentioned in Remarks under the Alder Flycatcher.

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