This small flycatcher measures about 6 inches in length and has a wingspan of about 9 inches. Coloring is gray overall and rather nondescript, but a white eye ring, white wing bars, and white outline to the primary feathers are distinctive. The bird also dips the tail downward when perched, as opposed to an upward flick of the tail in other Empidonax flycatchers.
Gray flycatchers favor drier habitats in the high Great Basin desert shrublands of the western U.S. They are found in ponderosa pine and pinyon-juniper forests and sagebrush shrublands. Their breeding range extends from north central and western New Mexico up through western Colorado, Utah, northern Arizona, Nevada, and into Idaho and Oregon. They overwinter in Mexico, but may also be found in mesquite groves and arroyo vegetation in southern Arizona. These flycatchers hunt for insects low in shrubs and trees, and also forage on the ground. They also fly out from a perch to nab a flying insect on the wing.
The deep cup nest is normally hidden in dense vegetation from 3 to 20 feet off the ground, where the female lays one egg per day. But the 3 to 4 altricial nestlings usually hatch on the same day.
Gray flycatchers are very similar in appearance to Dusky flycatchers, but the Dusky species is an uncommon breeder in far northern New Mexico. If one of these flycatchers is seen during the breeding season in central New Mexico, it is most likely the Gray species. The songs are also distinctive between the two similar species. Occasionally Gray flycatchers go off course during their southward migration and end up in the eastern U.S. The reasons for these vagrant forays are unknown but are assumed to be the result of faulty navigation responses in individual birds.
The Audubon society reports that the population of the Gray flycatcher is abundant and stable at this time and not expected to be greatly affected by moderate climate warming in the future.