Hey guys, welcome back. Flycatchers. They’re a source of frustration amongst birders. To some, sparrows all look the same and warblers can become confusing in fall, but even they all have visual clues that can help. And while many flycatchers can be ID’d by sight, there’s still just as many that typically can’t. In those cases, you need to rely on sound. The willow flycatcher is one of those.
The willow flycatcher is a small gray flycatcher, usually with a yellowish cast to its belly, and has two whitish wingbars. Visually, they look almost identical to the alder and acadian flycatchers of the east, and the Hammond’s and dusky flycatchers of the west. Found throughout the US, their range overlaps with all the others listed above. So what do you do to ID them? Learn their song. They have a buzzy fitz-bew sounding call. Here in the east, that call is fairly distinct compared to the other look-alikes.
There is another good clue to their ID. Now, I’m not sure if this is the case out west, as I have yet to bird out there (I was supposed to go last spring, but the pandemic had other plans) but here in Ohio, habitat is another tool to utilize. Here in Ohio, both the willow and acadian breed, but they breed in very different habitats. Willow flycatchers tend to prefer tall grassy areas. The same kinds of places you’d find sedge wrens, blackbirds, song sparrows, etc. The acadian, on the other hand, prefers forested habitat. Now, they are both pretty vocal birds, so typically you get to use both habitat and sound which certainly helps. And once you know a couple of flycatchers by sound, you can more easily narrow down your flycatching ID. In terms of behavior, the willow is pretty typical of flycatchers, though unlike pewees and phoebes, usually don’t return to the same branch after sallying out to catch some lunch. Next up, another bird that has some look-alike cousins. Least tern is next. See you then!