Note: short small bill, shorter tail, and distinct
  • Note: short small bill, shorter tail, and distinct
  • Note: long primary projection, short tail, and short, dark bill.

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Hammond's Flycatcher

Empidonax hammondii
Members of this diverse group make up more than half of the bird species worldwide. Most are small. However their brains are relatively large and their learning abilities are greater than those of most other birds. Passerine birds are divided into two suborders, the suboscines and the oscines. Oscines are capable of more complex song, and are considered the true songbirds. In Washington, the tyrant flycatchers are the only suboscines; the remaining 27 families are oscines.
Unlike most passerines found in North America, flycatchers are suboscines. Suboscines have a simpler syrinx (voice box) than the oscines (songbirds), and hence have less-developed and less-elaborate songs. Their song is innate, and does not contain a learned component. The flycatchers are the only suboscine passerines found in North America north of Mexico. Nearly all suboscines (and all Tyrannidae) are native to the New World, and they are much more numerous in the tropics, where several other families occur in addition to the Tyrannidae. Flycatchers are named for their foraging style. They sit quietly on a perch and dart out to grab a flying insect from the air, and then return to their perch to wait for the next meal to fly by. Many also forage by hovering next to foliage or over the ground. Most have a distinct, upright posture and a slight crest. They have small feet as they do not typically walk or run on the ground. Most flycatchers are monogamous. The female generally builds the nest, incubates the eggs, and broods the young, although both parents feed the young. Flycatchers of the genus Empidonax pose many identification challenges for birders. Range, habitat, vocalizations, and behavior must all be taken into account to distinguish between members of this group.
Fairly common summer resident
  • Species of Concern
  • Sound To Sage

General Description

Like other Empidonax flycatchers, Hammond's Flycatchers are olive-gray above and buffy-yellow below, with a slight crest, two white wing-bars, and white eye-ring. The eye-ring of the Hammond's is uneven and almost invisible in some birds. The bill is dark, which may help distinguish it from other Empidonax flycatchers. These small flycatchers have long wings, a relatively short tail, and very small bill.


Regardless of the time of year, Hammond's Flycatchers inhabit cool, forested regions. During the breeding season, they use large stands of mature, wet conifer and mixed forests with closed canopies and sparse understories.


These aerial foragers are found high in the canopy where they watch from a perch and fly out to catch prey in mid-air, then return to the perch to eat. They sometimes forage from lower perches, gleaning prey directly off the foliage, or hunting on the ground. The last two foraging styles are more common early in the breeding season. Both Hammond's and the similar Dusky Flycatchers wag their tails in a slow, up-down motion. (This behavior may help narrow down the choices when trying to distinguish among the Empidonax flycatchers).


Insects, especially beetles, caterpillars, moths, and flies, are the most common prey.


The male sings to defend a territory and attract a mate. The female builds the nest, which is generally in the lower third of the canopy of a tall conifer, placed well out from the trunk on a horizontal branch. The nest is made of spider webs, grass, and plant fiber, lined with feathers and fur. The female incubates three to four eggs for 15 to 16 days, and broods the newly hatched young. Both parents help feed the young, which begin to fly at 16 to 18 days. The young often remain together, near the parents, for a week or so after they fledge.

Migration Status

These hardy birds undertake a prolonged migration in the fall and spring. They start arriving in Washington by mid-April, but many higher-altitude breeders remain in the lowlands until early to mid-May, arriving in Washington in late May. They start heading south again by mid-August, with the last birds leaving in late September. They winter in the pine-oak woods of Mexico and Central America.

Conservation Status

Hammond's Flycatchers were once common in the Puget Sound lowlands and the lowland forests on the eastern side of the Cascades, but extensive cutting of these forests has removed this habitat. They are listed on the Audubon~Washington watch list, although Breeding Bird Survey results indicate they have been increasing significantly in Washington in recent years. Some researchers have recommended, based on habitat requirement studies, that Hammond's Flycatchers need stands at least 20 acres in size and 80-90 years old to sustain populations.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Hammond's Flycatchers can be found from late April to August throughout Washington where there is appropriate habitat. They breed in wet coniferous forests, from the lowlands to the tree line, although they are most common at middle elevations. During migration they are common in the lowlands, including wooded areas of the shrub-steppe zone.

Click here to visit this species' account and breeding-season distribution map in Sound to Sage, Seattle Audubon's on-line breeding bird atlas of Island, King, Kitsap, and Kittitas Counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest Coast RFFFF
Puget Trough UFUUFF
North Cascades RCCCFR
West Cascades RFFFFU
East Cascades RFFFFFR
Okanogan CCCCU
Canadian Rockies FFFF
Blue Mountains RFFFUU
Columbia Plateau U UU

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Early Warning

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern