The Amazing Acadian Flycatcher

Deep in the deciduous woodlands of North America lives a very nondescript flycatcher, the Acadian Flycatcher, which is a member of the Empidonax flycatchers, all of which are drab and cryptic in appearance. The male likes a stream or creek nearby and spends most of his time in the dark understory of his woodland home. His simple song, heard throughout the day, belies his true singing prowess. For this little bundle of feathers has a few tricks up his sleeve, which are particularly fascinating when you consider that flycatchers do not learn their songs — their songs are innate, coded in their DNA.

During the day the Acadian flycatcher sings his familiar “pit-seeup!” or “peet-zuh” (or as the researchers describe it “tee-chup“) from perches among dead branches in the lower portions of the canopy as well as from the top of the shrub layer. He throws back his head with a sharp snap and flicks his tail as he explosively expels his song:

Daytime song of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV.

When flying from one perch to another, the Acadian flycatcher will sometimes twitter as it goes. This call is used by both sexes:

Twitter calls of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV.

Also, both sexes can give the “peet” call that seems to be used in mate contact:

Peet calls of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV.

In the twilight of dawn, our Acadian flycatcher starts singing from the highest perches of the canopy of his forest home. This special “dawn song,” often referred to as “twighlight song” because it is given during the low light of dawn and dusk, is delivered more rapidly and contains more varied notes or calls than the simple daytime song:

“Dawn song” of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV.

About an hour before sunset the Acadian flycatcher does another, yet different, rendition of the twilight song. Now at the end of the day the calls and songs are given at a slightly lower pitch (at least for this particular male this was true for every session recorded) but just as excitedly as at dawn:

“Evening song” of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV.

Interestingly, the evening twilight song maybe punctuated with a real zinger — a flight song, given as the male flies upward from the shrub layer toward the canopy. This flight song is composed of a series of very rapidly sung calls and song elements. It is truly amazing to hear:

“Flight song” of the Acadian flycatcher recorded in June 2012 by Wil Hershberger in Morgan County, WV. In this example the male does flight song, lands and gives several call notes and twitter calls.

All of the recordings on this page are from the same individual male Acadian flycatcher. I followed his daily activities for nearly two weeks to get good examples of all of the songs and calls presented in this post. Capturing a good recording of the flight song was the most difficult. There is no warning whatsoever that he is going to break into flight song. Once I knew his preferred evening singing perches, I could be prepared to capture this rare vocalization. On more than one occasion there were interfering noises that masked the flight song. One evening, it was nice and quiet when he took flight, the magic ingredient that allowed for the capturing of this amazing (and rarely recorded) flight display.

Summary of Acadian Flycatcher’s sound repertoire:

  • simple song
  • flight twitter
  • peet call
  • twilight song (there may be different dawn and dusk versions)
  • flight song

For another portrait of the evening song of the Acadian flycatcher, see Lang’s post, “Acadian Twilight Song.”

Comments

  1. Zack Frieben says:

    I hear a Great Crested Flycatcher in the background of the first recording, but that’s not all I hear. I love the song of the Acadian Flycatcher, it sounds explosive and if at a close range it might startle you.

    I hear Eastern-Wood Pewees, Cardinals, a vireo, and a Pileated Woodpecker in the background of the second recording.

    I hear a Chipping Sparrow, wood-pewees, and a Great Crested Flycatcher in the background of the third recording, but there were also some birds that I couldn’t make out what they were.

    I hear robins, pewees, cardinals, and a Carolina Wren in the background of the fourth recording.

    I hear cardinals, a pewee, and a Great Crested Flycatcher in the background of the fifth recording.

    And finally, I hear a Scarlet Tanager and a cardinal in the background of the sixth recording.

    I AM A HUGE FAN OF MUSICOFNATURE.ORG. I LISTEN TO RECORDINGS ON THIS WEBSITE EVERY DAY.

  2. Will, that was a fantasstic post! It sounds like fun to follow an individual around in his daily activities for a while, and to get all the great recordings to boot!! I wish I had the time and patience to do that sort of “experiment.”

    I love the posts with so many sounds at one time. It gives you a great idea of the vocal capabilities of the species. Those flycatchers are sure talented!

    BTW, Lang, I still had to enter my email address to comment.

  3. Thank you Peter. I am glad that you like the recordings and delighted that they will be useful to you. After 28 years in public service with the USDA I am now retired and “working” as a full time freelance nature sounds recordist and nature photographer. A dream come true. So, following this beautiful bird thought out his routine for 2 weeks was right in keeping with my new vocation. 🙂 And I couldn’t be happier.
    Thanks again,
    Wil

  4. Excellent. Acadian Flycatchers are at the limit of their range here in Southern Ontario. I know of only one reliable place to find them and even then you can never be sure if and or what you’re hearing. But your recordings are very helpful and extraordinarily clear. BTW, don’t you have a life?

  5. Thank you all. This is the first post that contains nearly the entire repertoire of a bird species. It was great fun following this individual around in a lovely wooded setting while trying to record what he had to say.
    Thank you again,
    Wil

  6. sushil chhabra says:

    Hi, Thanks Wil Hershberger, Nice sharing very interesting and great job, the sound have great impact with the Graphs ….very special.
    Greeting …..::::❤•* *´`❀::Thanks::*´`•** ❤:::

  7. Lisa Rainsong says:

    Wil, I’ve heard some of these Acadian songs/calls before but never the flight call or the twitter! Thank you so much for posting such a wonderfully comprehensive collection that gives me such a clear idea of this little flycatcher’s repertoire. The recordings are beautiful.

  8. That was a joy to listen to. Great post. Love it!

    • Thank you Portia. I have a question. Is this your first comment on old-miracle.mystagingwebsite.com? If it is, were you required to enter your e-mail? I’m curious because I just changed WordPress settings so that folks can leave comments without registering, but I’m not sure exactly what happens when a new person tries to leave a comment.

  9. Great job Wil! Super clean and clear recordings. And you got the flight song to boot! Very special indeed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.