LEAST FLYCATCHER – (Empidonax minimus)
The Least flycatcher, as its name implies, is the smallest flycatcher at around 12 cm (5 in.) long. That trait, along with its characteristic call, makes it easier to distinguish among other flycatchers with similar colors. The upper parts and head are grey-olive green and there’s a white eyering. The head is quite large relative to the body. The breast is light grey and the belly whitish. There are two white bars on the dark grey wings. The bill, legs and feet are also grey. Sexes are similar, and in juveniles the wing bars are more yellowish and less apparent.
The Latin genus name ‘empidonax’ means ‘gnat master’, and ‘minimus’ means ‘smallest’. It is also called ‘chebec’ due to its main quick call (in French it’s written as ‘Tchébec’.)
Although small, least flycatchers will aggressively defend their territory against intruders, even birds as large as the blue jay. During breeding season they gather in ‘clusters’ of up to some 30 nests, and males and females will mate with more than one partner. These nest clusters offer more security from potential predators.
This flycatcher’s diet includes various insects (not just flies) and arthropods, which they catch on the fly or on leaves. They may also feed on berries and seeds.
The least flycatcher breeds on PEI, and its occurrence varies from uncommon to common in the spring, to common in the summer, and uncommon in the fall. Its breeding range covers the mixed forest in Canada and the northern USA (except out west), and during migration it can be found across most of the USA east of the Rockies. For the winter, the least flycatcher migrates to Mexico and the northern part of Central America.
Conservation: the population of the least flycatcher has gone through a sharp decline over the last few decades, by some 50%. One possible explanation would be due to the creation of openings in its forested habitat by logging, which also allows more deer browsing.