Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Posted by on Jun 9, 2010 in Farm Blog, Flora and Fauna, Natives | 28 comments

No, we’re not doing ‘Fowl Friday’ on a Wednesday, but late Monday afternoon, I went out to check on some transplants on the front deck (now secured from deck-roaming deer), and was startled when a bird bolted past my brow.

About a week ago we’d noticed a bit of a mess on top of our porch light.  More than the typical accumulation of spiderwebs and dust.  This was more of an organized mess, with bits of leaves and moss twined in with spider webs.  It seemed someone was attempting to build a nest.

It hasn't been that long since I cleaned the porch light

Figuring that our front door is a rather high-traffic location, I expected this project could be abandoned in favor of a more suitable, less hectic, location…like a tree?  My near-miss with this brow-buzzing bird though would suggest I was wrong.

I’d seen a little male flycatcher hanging out on the front deck for the last week or so, and watched as he patiently hopped around, gathering spider webs from under the porch railing.  So I had an idea who might be in residence on the nest.

As I looked atop the light, it seemed the heap of moss, leaves, and webs was unoccupied…and because I’m significantly shorter than the top of our porch-light, I decided to use my camera as a periscope.  Trying to focus with the camera held high over my head, without the benefit of the viewfinder, made for a few rather uninteresting results at first…

Need to readjust the lens...try zooming out a bit first try zooming in...

…wait a minute, what’s that bright spot in the middle?  Two or three more shots later…



EGGS?!  Apparently nest construction is complete, and our new tenants have obtained their certificate of occupancy already!  I quickly removed myself from the porch, so as not to deter the female so she could feel comfortable resuming incubation duties undisturbed.

Fortunately, our foyer though serves as a rather handy blind.  I can see the nest through the window in the front door, so I watched for a while, and then broke out my rather dogeared and tattered Sibley book.  At first I thought perhaps Dusky Flycatcher, or maybe even a Hammond’s, but Sibley refuted both of those notions, as we’re merely in their migration zone, not their typical breeding realm. Then I flipped a page or two back…ah ha!  Pacific-Slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis), and here’s our Mother-to-be…

"Can I help you?"

I then had to rummage around to see if the photograph of the eggs I’d acquired matched the description of eggs laid by this species, and indeed they do.  “Dull to creamy white; spotted and blotched with browns, usually concentrated about large end” (Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds’ Nests).  So it seems we have nesting Pacific-slope Flycatchers on our front porch.  As near as I could determine with my wobbly over-head camera shooting, it looks like we have four eggs in total.  Incubation is 14-15 days, and apparently they often hatch 2 broods per year!

Porch lights don’t seem like the most sensible place to make a nest.  The topography is tricky, and the surface is quite slick.  Although I suppose you do eliminate the risks of predators that can climb trees.  Without wings, it’s unlikely anything is going to make it up there.  For us, it’s a minor inconvenience, but nothing we can’t work around.  We’ve taken to using the back door for now so we don’t disturb our new mother-to-be.


Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis), female incubating eggs

We do rather wonder if part of the reason they chose this spot is because of the hoards of moths that congregate under the light at night?  Our dark-eyed Juncos discovered the all-you-can-eat moth-buffet some time ago, and some mornings the carnage, various colored moth wings scattered across the door mat, is quite impressive!  Apparently moth wings aren’t so tasty though.

Now we’ll have to wait and see if these little flycatcher eggs hatch…more soon, we hope!


  1. sweet! Su-weet, su-weet, su-weet… one of my favorite bird sounds…

    A brief story; one spring, years ago when I lived in the East Bay I had a Pacific-slope Flycatcher nest in my back yard. In time, I realized the nest had been parasiticized by a Brown-headed Cowbird (in that little nest!) From dawn to dusk every day I watched the exhausted pair of tiny Flycatchers feed the hatched, very large Cowbird until it fledged… of course, this was at the loss of their own hatchlings…

    • Yes, I read the other day that the Brown-headed Cowbirds are rather notorious for laying eggs in the nests of Flycatchers. I can’t imagine these parents trying to feed such monstrous babies. Thankfully, we don’t see the Cowbirds up here (knock-wood).

  2. Great post! At first I thought it was a woven nest… I have never seen this flycatcher and look forward to seeing those babies hatch out. So good of you to use the back door and I can understand the location for the moths but would not think the birds would favor the night light. ;>)
    Carol´s last post…Purple Hues Back Door Garden Lovely Guests!

    • We actually considered whether or not we should leave the light off at night. Eventually the thinking was that the light has been on every night, and they’ve ended up building there anyway. We use a fluorescent bulb, so there’s negligible heat radiated from the fixture, and without the night-light…the breakfast buffet wouldn’t be there. What new mother doesn’t appreciate breakfast in bed? 😛

  3. Dear Clare, What utterly charming house guests you are entertaining at present and more to come soon!

    I am amazed at the confidence with which your fly catcher has decided to occupy your front entrance. With all the traffic to and fro, it is unusual that it has decided to stay. so, yet more eggs to hatch out at Curbstone Valley and I look forward to hearing of their arrival.
    Edith Hope´s last post…Taking Queen’s Counsel

    • We’re amazed they finished the nest. Some days the traffic through the front door is busier than the M1! I almost wondered if we really needed to use the back door instead, but I figure it doesn’t hurt, and I’d hate for her abandon her eggs because of the disturbance.

  4. How amazing to have a wild anima trust you enough to be happy to make a nest in such an obvious place!

    Good luck, and just think in a couple of weeks you could be seeing cute little fledglings 🙂

    • I hope they do hatch…and if they do, I’ll be sure to post an update!

  5. Clare~They know you are safe and with the restaurant so close by they decided to put up with the busy traffic! gail

  6. Oh, I just love the pictures you were able to capture. I have not seen a fly catcher before, that I know of. But, I recently bought a bird book, so I can start to better identify the birds in my garden 🙂
    Noelle / azplantlady´s last post…A Harvest of Peaches and Jam….

    • I think a lot of us gardeners inadvertently become avid ornithologists, amateur entomologists, or even mycologists 😛 I have the bird books covered, but I still need to pickup a book for identifying butterflies in our gardens, and maybe one on insects too!

  7. Fantastic Clare! I’m sure its interesting to see all the little bits that make up the nest too. I am going to have to photograph the two nests here – both at the egg stage like yours too. Its so exciting when they hatch. I’m sure you can’t wait as thats when it get so interesting and noisy.
    [email protected]´s last post…Nectaring – Wordless Wednesday

    • There is a lot of diverse material in that nest. Moss, bay leaves, oak leaves, redwood, redwood mulch, and feathers. I loved watching the male Flycatcher, with his bouffant hair-do, gathering the spiderwebs off the railing. Made me feel justified for not sweeping up the porch yet this spring! 😛

  8. Oh they are going to be cute. She seems quite content sitting up there on her eggs. You know, for every asshole BP poluting pig out in the world there are 50 wondeful people like you who use a different door to their house so they don’t disturb nesting birds. I’m not losing hope on humans just yet. M
    Urban Dirt Girl´s last post…Up on the roof

    • It is easy to feel quite helpless with the current events in the Gulf. I feel we can all do little things everyday though, right where we live, that make a positive difference. Even if it means using a different door. 🙂

  9. “Can I help you?” Hilarious! That is exactly what she looks like.

    I would say that the birds already know what kind of traffic is there, but you are right, it couldn’t hurt to use a different route.

    I had mourning doves nest at the top of a downspout near my backdoor a few years ago. Boy, what a dumb spot! I think mourning doves aren’t very bright – your bird looks sharp as a tack!
    Sylvana´s last post…The Bad Economy Is Good For Something

  10. Oh, how adorable that bird is! And what a great shot of the eggs! Reminds me of my experience with cardinals in the front door light back in April. The light was too high though to reach on foot, so I needed a ladder to use my camera as a periscope. It was a wonderful experience, as I got to witness their fledging. : )
    Floridagirl´s last post…Garden News Brief

    • I remember your Cardinals…and how fast they grew. It was amazing! I’m still trying to envision four babies in this tiny nest 😛

  11. How cool is that! I always dream of a bird making its home somewhere really close. Funny how you made the photos! They are quite amazing.

    (I hope we’re still having Fowl Friday, the highlight of my week)

    • No worries TM, Fridays are strictly reserved for fowl! 😀

      • Hello Clare,

        I submitted comments on July 5th in regards to our experience and observation of a beautiful female Pacific Slope Flycatcher who has chosen to nest and have her second brood on top of our garage door opener’s electrical box-next to the pulley chain and light! She is a serious nester and doing very well so far with a second clutch on the way. I wasn’t sure if I successfully submitted my comments and I’m not sure how to upload photos? You have such a nice pen and I so enjoyed reading about your experience with the exception of the nest robbing. I now know why she has chosen such a spot for her nest. Jayne in Monterey, CA.

  12. Oh seeing this tiny family makes my heart so happy!

    We had a rough morning with baby birds today…
    lisa´s last post…The Hunter and the Hunted

  13. How exciting, Clare, to get to watch the whole thing unfold from your comfortable “blind” in the foyer. 🙂 I love the shot of the mother looking towards the camera. Somehow it made me wonder if she could still see you, or sense you.

    I’ve never seen this species, so it will be exciting for me to watch this family grow. (I suppose I should add, if you plan to cover the process on the blog!)
    Meredith´s last post…meeting the muse

  14. That’s really neat! What a cute bird. It’s pretty amazing where birds will nest. I hope you’ll be able to see the babies when they hatch.
    Catherine´s last post…A walk around the front yard.

  15. That’s great and you have ringside seats too!
    melanie´s last post…How To Eat Rhubarb.

  16. Wow! I’ve many a flycatcher, but never saw a nest. And what an interesting nest it is! Maybe the available of food trumped the nearness of humans? At any rate, neat photos!
    villager´s last post…Wren Update

  17. Oh my gosh, the animals are taking over! Next thing you know the bunnies will be helping themselves to the veggie bin in the fridge! Such an awesome discovery and I can’t wait to see more periscope shots! (hint, hint…)
    Christine´s last post…Exclusive! Insect Paparazzi

  18. I came across these posts while searching for nesting habits for the Pacific-Slope Flycatcher. We live on the central coast’s beautiful Monterey Peninsula. The last two years, come May, we have a Pacific-Slope Flycatcher nest, of all places, on top of our garage door opener’s mechanical box. We have a 3-birth garage and the door-opener, directly over my car’s birth, is where she chose to nest each year. Yes, right on top in the area next to the noisy pully chain and light. I can hardly take the loud noise and vibration when the garage door automatically opens so I couldn’t imagine why a bird would want to nest in such a place. This is a testament to the fact that birds today have adapted well to our habitats and choose some remarkable places to nest. Her first clutch and incubation was in June this year. I was first very concerned about the noise and vibration but soon came to realize she was doing fine in this spot she had chosen to lay and incubate her first clutch. Every morning by 7 or 7:30 if we had not opened the garage door I would hear her chirping loudly while she danced on the window sill of the garage trying to get out. So we started a new routine for her while she nested. We would open the garage door every morning when we awakened and we would leave only the one door open while we were away during the day-actually the door furthest from her nest. When we retired at night we would shut the door for the night. One morning as I was leaving I heard cheeping sounds coming from the nest over my car. I soon started to think about how were the fledglings going to fledge and land out of the nest either on top of my car or on the hard concrete floor and survive. In preparation I would leave one of the dog’s beds on top of my car or on the garage floor if the car was out of the garage. I did this routinely for a while and finally convinced myself, after much reading and research on the Internet, that they would be fine when parachuting out of the nest and landing on the concrete garage floor hopefully not killing themselves from the impact. I also had a general window of 14 days where I was counting-down because the next hurdle for the fledglings would be our automobiles rolling in an out daily and most importantly the other members of our family- two large, grey standard poodles, Sophie & Tucker. We routinely leave them during the day in the garage with a large gate across the door. Well, needless to say after hearing the first “peep” that routine stopped. About around the 14 day mark I was leaving with the poodles and proceeded with my usual routine for them to ride with me while running errands that day. I opened the back door of my sedan so they could mount the back seat to be chauffeured for the day. While going around the back of the car to get into the driver’s seat as luck would have it out from under my car came the most adorable fluffy baby bird. As soon as I took a couple of steps closer he made his first maiden flight in the air. The garage was now off limits to the poodles. I had no way of knowing how many fledglings were to come. A few days after this incident we found 3 more fledglings in the garage and they too took to flight with no problem. We were so relieved and pleased that under these dire circumstances she and her fellow mate were able to have a brood that made it to the tree branches. A week or so later(late June) I noticed she was back in the garage and it looked like she had been freshening her nest for a second clutch. She has been seriously nesting now for over a week and we know the routine now but are praying that this second brood will make it to adulthood. I so enjoyed reading Clare’s comments and seeing her fabulous photo gallery. Everything she noted was so characteristic of our experience. The male coming and going gave us pause to think the babies had hatched. Hearing the peeps confirmed that. If we hung out too long in the garage he would swoop into the garage and perch close to the nest with his warning. In spite of the obstacles mentioned above we don’t have any cats on the property or near by for that matter but we do have a predator Bluejay we keep our eye on. I read where birds have virtually no smelling sense but very sharp eyes. I’m hoping the Bluejay won’t be enticed into the garage by the mother and father birds flight pattern. I’ll post again if we hear “cheeping”. I would love to try and capture photos like Clare so cleverly accomplished but the space between the electrical box and the garage ceiling is very shallow-maybe 3 inches. I’ll work on crafting a method to achieve this endeavor.