Southwestern Willow Flycatcher - Illustration by Bill Singleton

Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

Empidonax traillii extimus


The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is a small bird standing six inches high and weighing half an ounce.1 It has a green-gray back and wings, a white throat, a light olive breast, and a pale yellow belly.2 It is most recognized by its calls: a sharp whit! or a "sneezy witch-pew or fitz-bew."3

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher occurs in dense riparian habitats along streams, rivers, and other wetlands. At low elevations, the flycatcher breeds in stands of dense cottonwood, willow, and tamarisk thickets, as well as other lush woodland areas near water.3 At higher elevations, it occurs in pure stands of Geyer willow.3 The destruction of riparian habitats has caused a severe decline in the populations of the southwestern willow flycatcher.4 This sub-species exists only in fragmented and scattered locations throughout the state.

Historically, the breeding range reached from southern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas, southwestern Colorado, and northwestern Mexico.4 The flycatcher is a migratory bird with little known about its winter range. It is currently thought that it winters in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Currently, the breeding range for the flycatcher is similar to the historic range, though much of the riparian habitat in the southwest has been destroyed due to agricultural and urban development.

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is an insectivore, taking insects from the air, or picking them from the foliage.4

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is present on breeding grounds by mid-May. By late May, nests are built, usually in a branched tree fork near the water. Typically, three eggs are laid and then incubated for 12­13 days. Breeding success is heavily affected by predation and brown-headed cowbird parasitism.3

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher was declared endangered March 29, 1995, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. It is included on the Arizona Game and Fish Department's draft version of Wildlife of Special Concern in Arizona. The species does have an approved recovery plan and designated critical habitat.

The SW Willow Flycatcher in Pima County:
At one time, many of the riparian habitats of Pima County were home to E.t. extimus. The San Pedro River has been designated as critical habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, including sections in Pima County.4 Restoration and protection of the remaining riparian habitats in Pima County are essential for the reestablishment of the southwestern willow flycatcher.



1. Lower Colorado Region, Bureau of Reclamation. 1997. "Long Term Restoration Program for the Historical Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Habitat Along the Lower Colorado River."

2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Endangered and Threatened Species: The Southwest Willow Flycatcher; Final Rule." The Federal Register, Februar y 27, 1995. Volume 60. Number 38.

3. Johnson, Terry B. "Southwestern Willow Flycatcher." 8/23/99 Web site: i.htm.

4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Determination of Critical Habitat for the Southwestern Flycatcher." Federal Register. July 22, 1997. Volume 62, Number 140.



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