Generations of Flycatchers

Flycatcher nest with eggs, California

Flycatcher nest with eggs, California

Each spring for at least ten years a pair of flycatchers has nested near my door and raised 3-4 chicks.  Here is a brief overview of the Pacific Slope Flycatcher, and a progression of photos highlighting their first 16 days of life.


The species breeds in a narrow range on the western coast of North America.  Every winter they migrate to Mexico, every spring they visit us here in North America to raise their young. They prefer mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, which is where I live.

Flycatcher nest:  3 in. left of the top left corner of screen door

Nest locale: 3 in. left of the top left corner of screen door


Empidonax difficilis  have a longevity of about six years and they start breeding at one year old.  A small bird of about 5 or 6 inches (14-17 cm), most people do not know anything about them.  Due to an ornithological species split, the research is confusing and at times sketchy.  You can read more about the species here.


Below are the photos of the four chicks who fledged last week.  There is also an account of some of their ancestors’ antics over the past years, and how my partner and I came to assist our pacific slope flycatcher population.


If you are ever wondering how you can help with wildlife conservation, you might want to start by paying attention to what is going on in your own backyard.  There are incredible miracles happening every day.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


Day 1

Day 1. First hatchling resting his head on sibling-to-be

Day 4

Day 4


Day 6

Day 6


Day 8

Day 8


Day 10

Day 10

Day 13

Day 13


Day 15

Day 15


Day 16.  All birds fledged 2 days later.

Day 16. All birds fledged 2 days later.


When the first pair started nesting here, the female built a precarious nest on our front door beam.  Pieces of the nest would frequently fall down, and as the chicks got bigger, their nest crumbled even more.  This happened every year.


One year on a sweltering summer day, I came home from work to find one of the chicks half-dead on the doorstep.  I set a tiny dish of water in front of him, and caught a big juicy fly with a flyswatter.  I set that freshly-dead fly in front of him, and hours later he flew off.  He or she just needed a little refreshment and rejuvenation, like all of us.


The next spring we installed a nest box near the beam, just for them, hoping they would nest in it.  But they preferred the beam, inadequate as it was.


Another year the entire nest with four hatchlings fell off the beam, slammed onto the deck.  It was simply too big for the beam.  I heard the commotion, my partner and I came running, and we snapped up the four devastated chicks that were scrambling in every direction.  (They were incredibly reminiscent of little wind-up chicks seen at Easter time).  We gently and quickly placed the mangled nest and startled chicks in the provided nest box. They were fine, grew up, flew off.


Birds tend to raise their families where they were raised.  So it stands to reason that the pairs who have nested at our doorway are offspring of this tumbled nest.  Now, however, they don’t bother nesting on that inadequate beam; they nest in the box that we installed just for them.  They often raise two families, starting with the first clutch in May, then another clutch in June.  This year we had a family at both our front door and back door.


The photos you see here were all taken this month at the back door nest.  This is a convenient (for them) cubby hole.  The nest in front that has the referenced nest box, has a female brooding on three perfect eggs at this moment.  Each day is a new joy; each new spring is a glorious statement about the beauties of life and growth.


Thanks for your interest!


70 thoughts on “Generations of Flycatchers

    • I have seen many instances in the wild where birds or mammals are not necessarily perfect parents; I’m guessing you have too, Cindy. It’s a learned behavior for them just like it is for humans. I guess that’s what makes the observing so very fun! Very glad you liked the post my friend. 😀

    • We have a warbling vireo nest in the forest here too, and they are so tiny and camouflaged! You must have eagle-eyes to have found one in Central Park. Very exciting! I hope it is wildly successful. Thanks so much Sherry Lynn. 😀

  1. Am so glad they eventually saw the nesting box as a positive for them – now I’m off to investigate more as I’ve never hear of a bird called the Flycatcher before! 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for taking time and effort to take these photos of 16-day growing process, Jet! Truly precious. Appreciate the conservation information. We have several tall oak trees in the backyard, there are a few nests up there covering by leaves. 🙂

    • Isn’t this an exciting time of year for nests and new birds Amy? And how wonderful to have tall oak trees in your backyard. Thanks for your kind comments and interest, my friend. 😀

    • I am really happy to hear from you, Bill, and appreciate your comment. You know well how fun it is to watch the little eggs burst open and develop into new birds. Many thanks! 😀

    • Athena was vigilant about recording the progress. Since the nest was right off the kitchen, we could hear when the parent flew off to get food, and Athena could photograph them without climbing a tree or ladder. Thanks so very much Jan. 😀

    • Hi Brick, how wonderful to hear from you. I appreciate your frequent visits and this very kind comment. I’m really glad you enjoyed the flycatcher saga. 😀

  3. What an amazing story. The babies grew so fast. Isn’t it wonderful to have nature happening right outside your door. Your story brought back memories of raising sparrows who fell from the nest one year.

    • They grew so fast I could hardly believe it either! It’s just as well because we couldn’t keep that door open–didn’t want to scare them–and the kitchen gets hot. lol. It was wonderful to watch and now the front nest will soon have hatchlings too. Thanks so much Sharon. 😀

  4. How marvelous to see new life sprouting like this. I’ve been keeping an eye on our bald eagles’ nest, but sadly can’t see down into the nest. Last night I went by and one of the adults was perched on the usual dead tree near the nest, but he/she looked totally bedraggled, almost as though he had had a good soaking. We went by again this evening and it looked somewhat recovered. I can’t help but be concerned. Couldn’t see any fuzzy little heads sticking up this time. Anxiously awaiting further developments.

    • The nest watching business is very nerve-wracking. The nest that I have featured here was once devastated in a single day by a snake (4 purple finches eaten), so we were worried when she starting building the nest there. I sure hope that the little bald eagle heads come back out and that all is okay. Sometimes they’ve just repositioned. But sometimes, like us all, they’ve had a bad year. My best wishes in the development, Gunta. 😀

  5. Jet that time lapse is incredible! I mean really incredible!! The historical nesting season is the making of a documentary. The comparison to wind up chicks created visions of you and your partner scampering madly about trying to catch the wee things. Thank goodness for your kind hearts.

    • Yes, you captured the image well with us scampering around. One chick fell under the deck, into a place that is often occupied by a rattler. Flat on her stomach, Athena quickly reached under the deck and snatched the chick out without incident. I appreciate your kind words, Sue. BTW next wk is land iguanas, in anticipation of your upcoming trip. 😀

      • Oh my goodness my hands are sweating thinking of Athena running into a rattler in her quest to save the bird! Talk about adventure!
        I will look forward to the posts on iguanas. Did you hear about the volcano on Isabella Island? I understand the lava is not flowing toward the area the pink iguanas live.

      • No, didn’t hear about the volcano on Isabella, their biggest island. It has five volcanoes on it. Glad to hear the lava’s not a problem for the pink iguanas…. You and your husband must be very excited, and I am for you, Sue. 😀

      • Sue I really liked the link a lot, thanks for the info. Amazing photos! I don’t know how long it is before you arrive there, but it will be interesting to hear what changes were experienced. As for the altitude in Peru; it was a serious impediment for me (mostly shortness of breath and frequent headaches). But I just moved slower than usual, lingered longer on the views. Bike riding is different than hiking, but I am sure you will figure it out. 😀

  6. I’ve had nests of flycatchers for years too. Unfortunately, the bluebirds compete with them for nest space. This year, I placed a board across two rafters, and hope they’re using it. The other difficulty here in the last 2 or 3 years is the arrival of cowbirds. I’ve recently quit putting out birdseed, because the seed drew so many rodents, the bonus being that the number of cowbirds hanging around is greatly lessened. Now I just have a birdbath, which still attracts many birds, although not as many, and no towhees, who used to be my year-round visitors. Such a balancing act!

    • Yes, it is such a balancing act, I agree. Glad to hear that there’s less cowbirds, I think that’s very important. I think it’s great that you watch what’s going on, make adjustments and accommodations. Really appreciate your visit and comment. 😀

  7. A big Thank You for sharing this with us. What an adventure, and how fortunate for the chicks that you & Athena could lend a helping hand. This really made my feel warm & fuzzy inside. And the babies…they can be adorable & funny-looking at the same time ❤ ❤ 😀 I fell in love with these birds. Wishing you both a lovely weekend!
    – Takami 🙂

  8. What a joyful, life-affirming post! :)) You are so right that there are miracles happening every day right in our back yards. It still amazes me how hardy these little chicks can be. Thanks for making my day! :)))

    • Thanks so very much, Jeannie. Watching a tiny egg develop into a chick who flies off — definitely life-affirming. I’m so happy I made your day my friend. 😀

    • Walked out the back door one day and saw nesting materials scattered on the deck and smiled big, knowing what was going to unfold. It’s a special treat. So glad you enjoyed it, Lumar….many thanks! 😀

  9. Love it Jet! We’ve had two families of doves this year (two babies each) – about six weeks apart using the same nest. Interesting and I suspect that there might be a third starting.

  10. What a wonderful post, Jet! Loved the pictures of the little one’s life. You’re lucky to have the there, right at both your doors 🙂

    • I definitely feel lucky! It helps, too, that we are silent going in and out of doors, do not look directly at the brooding mother, and quietly encourage guests to come in and out quickly. Also we have had to hang our flag in a different spot now that the flycatcher dominates the usual spot. It’s a cooperative and respectful effort that has paid off well. Many thanks, Tiny, I am happy you enjoyed it. 😀

  11. As always: fascinating, informative, uplifting, humorous – visualizing you and Athena scrambling after wind-up Easter chicks was hilarious). Beautiful words, skillful photographs, lovely ladies.

    • How very kind, thanks so much dear Nan. It all happened so fast; probably not too good that Athena stretched her long arm underneath the deck where the rattlers are known to hang out. Fortunately she got the chick, and the rattler wasn’t around. whew! lol 😀 😀

  12. Amazing series of photos, Jet, and compelling narrative. You and Athena make a formidable twosome. It is amazing to see baby birds being born, knowing that the world is often a hostile environment for them, full of dangers. These baby birds seem so tiny. Thanks for helping them along the way (and recording the process for us all to enjoy).

    • Thank you, Mike, for your very kind comment and appreciation. You’re right that they are so tiny when just born, so vulnerable. We were lucky to have the opportunity to help them along their way. Thanks so much my friend. 😀

    • It is such a delight to watch them grow and mature with each new day. And in 16 short days they flew off! Thank you Lucy, as always, for your frequent visits and comments – I really appreciate it. 😀

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