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Least Flycatcher

Empidonax minimus

Length: 5.25 inches Wingspan: 8 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Grayish above, lighter below, white throat, pale yellow undertail coverts.  See note below regarding Empidonax flycatchers.

Least Flycatcher - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatchers are one of the most common small flycatchers that can be found in the state.  It is often seen in the open, singing its repetitive song.  The Least Flycatcher belongs to a group of 11 "Empidonax" flycatchers, all of which are very similar and difficult to separate.  Voice, behavior, and location are often the best clues in differentiating the species. In South Dakota, time of year and habitat offer some clues. Least Flycatchers breed in South Dakota while some species are only migrants. Least Flycatchers are also primarily found in deciduous forest habitats, while another similar species that breeds in here in the summer months (Willow Flycatcher) is primarily found in shrubby areas near water.


Mixed habitat with trees and open areas, including woodland edges and clearings, residential areas, parks, and orchards.


Mostly insects, occasionally berries, other fruit, and seeds.


Observes from a perch and flies out to capture passing insects in mid-air.  They will also hover and glean insects from foliage and branches.


June and July. The nest of a Least Flycatcher is built by the female, in the fork of a tree or shrub, anywhere from 3 to 40 feet from the ground. The nest is constructed of grasses, strips of bark, weedstems, and spider webs, lined with finer grass, moss, lichen, and/or animal hair. The female lays between 3 and 6 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them. The young hatch after about 14 days.


The song of a Least Flycatcher is a short, distinct chee-bek.  The call is a soft wheet.


Summers in much of Canada, the northern third of the U.S., and the Appalachians in the U.S. east.    Much rarer in the western part of the continent however.  Neotropical migrant, but a few can occasionally be found overwintering in Florida.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Least Flycatcher sightings

Similar Species:

Very similar to the other Empidonax flycatchers.  The species are all best separated by voice and range, as wells as very minor plumage or structural differences. In eastern South Dakota, the two most likely to be confused with Least Flycatchers are the following:

Alder Flycatcher - Empidonax alnorum Willow Flycatcher - Empidonax traillii Willow Flycatcher - Empidonax traillii
Alder Flycatcher Willow Flycatcher Willow Flycatcher

Conservation Status:

Surveys show declines in recent decades, primarily in the southern part of their breeding range. However, Least Flycatchers are still found across a very broad geographic area, and are common in parts of their range. The IUCN considers the Least Flycatcher to be a species of Least Concern.

Further Information:

  1. BirdWeb - Least Flycatcher
  2. WhatBird - Least Flycatcher
  3. Audubon Guide - Least Flycatcher

Photo Information:

May 16th, 2020 -- Beaver Creek Nature Area, South Dakota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Least Flycatcher photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Least Flycatcher - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant in the eastern part of the state, uncommon in the west.  Uncommon breeder in the eastern part of the state.

Additional Least Flycatcher Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
Least Flycatcher 1 - Empidonax minimus
Least Flycatcher 2 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 3 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 4 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 5 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 6 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 7 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 8 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 9 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 11 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 12 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 13 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 14 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 15 - Empidonax minimusLeast Flycatcher 16 - Empidonax minimus