Acadian Flycatcher: Identification, Habitat, and Behavior

The Acadian Flycatcher is a small, insect-eating bird that is commonly found in mature forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic United States. Known for its explosive ker-chip! songs, the Acadian Flycatcher perches on slender branches at middle heights to catch insects. Its rich olive-green plumage and neat white eye-ring make it relatively easy to identify among the dozen or more similar species in the Empidonax genus.

An Acadian Flycatcher perches on a slender branch, its olive-green feathers blending with the lush foliage. Its sharp beak is poised to snatch an insect from the air

Taxonomically, the Acadian Flycatcher belongs to the tyrant flycatcher family. Its scientific name is Empidonax virescens, and it is one of the smallest flycatchers in North America, measuring only about 5 inches in length and weighing less than half an ounce. Although it is a common bird, its populations have been declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Key Takeaways

  • The Acadian Flycatcher is a small, insect-eating bird found in mature forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic United States.
  • It belongs to the tyrant flycatcher family and is one of the smallest flycatchers in North America.
  • Its populations are declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Taxonomy and Classification

An Acadian Flycatcher perches on a leafy branch, its small, olive-green body blending into the surrounding foliage. Its beak is open as it emits a soft, melodious call, capturing the essence of its taxonomic classification

Species Overview

The Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) is a small passerine bird that belongs to the family of tyrant flycatchers. It is named after the region of Acadia, where it was first discovered and described by John James Audubon in 1839.

The species is relatively strongly marked among Empidonax species, with rich olive-green plumage, a neat bill, and a white eye-ring. Adults have olive upperparts, darker on the wings and tail, with whitish underparts. The breast is washed with olive. The upper part of the bill is dark, and the lower part is yellowish.

Genetic Lineage

The Acadian Flycatcher is part of the Empidonax genus, which is known for its many similar-looking species. The genus contains around 15 species that are native to North and Central America.

The Acadian Flycatcher is closely related to the Alder Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum) and the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), and the three species can be difficult to distinguish from each other. However, genetic studies have shown that the Acadian Flycatcher is a distinct species that diverged from its closest relatives around 3.5 million years ago.

The Acadian Flycatcher is also part of the larger family of tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae), which contains around 400 species worldwide. Tyrant flycatchers are known for their insectivorous diet and their distinctive vocalizations. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, from forests and grasslands to deserts and wetlands.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range

The Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) is a small passerine bird that breeds in eastern North America. Its breeding range spans from the southern parts of eastern Canada (southern Ontario and Quebec) southward into the eastern United States.

During the winter, the bird migrates through eastern Mexico and the Caribbean to southern Central America and the very northwest of South America in Colombia, western Venezuela, and Ecuador [1].

Habitat Preferences

The Acadian Flycatcher is a master of the treetops, favoring deciduous forests and wooded areas with a dense canopy. It prefers habitats with a mix of mature trees, shrubs, and understory vegetation, and is often found near water, such as streams, rivers, and wetlands [2]. The bird’s preferred habitat spans from the southeastern United States up to the Great Lakes, creating a melodious presence in states like Mississippi, Ohio, and parts of the Eastern United States [1].

In summary, the Acadian Flycatcher is a small bird that breeds in eastern North America and migrates to southern Central America and the very northwest of South America during the winter. The bird prefers deciduous forests and wooded areas with a dense canopy, often near water, and is found in a mix of mature trees, shrubs, and understory vegetation.

Behavior and Ecology

An Acadian Flycatcher perches on a tree branch, with its beak slightly open and its tail flicking as it watches for insects in a forest clearing

Feeding Habits

The Acadian Flycatcher is an insectivore, and its diet consists primarily of insects such as flies, moths, and beetles. They typically forage for insects by perching in the understory and darting out to catch prey in mid-air. They are known to consume fruits occasionally, but insects make up the vast majority of their diet.

Breeding and Nesting

Acadian Flycatchers breed in deciduous forests in North America. They typically place their nests in a horizontal fork near the end of a slightly drooping branch of a small tree or shrub, typically between 10 and 30 meters off the ground. The nests are small hammocks made primarily of spiderwebs or cocoon silk interwoven with fine strips of bark, twigs, and understory vegetation. The female lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated for about two weeks. The young birds leave the nest after about 10-12 days.

Migration Patterns

Unlike other Empidonax flycatchers, the Acadian regularly migrates north across the Gulf of Mexico in spring. Most migration is at night. The birds spend the winter in Central and South America. Territorial males will frequently sing throughout the breeding season, while females tend to only sing occasionally, and both sexes will sing during migration.

Conservation Status

An Acadian Flycatcher perches on a branch in a lush forest, surrounded by vibrant green foliage and dappled sunlight

Population Trends

The Acadian Flycatcher is not currently considered a threatened species, but its population faces challenges. The North American Breeding Bird Survey indicates that the population has remained relatively stable between 1966 and 2015. Partners in Flight estimates a global population of 5.2 million and rates the species an 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern.

Threats and Conservation Efforts

The preservation of the Acadian Flycatcher’s preferred woodland habitats is crucial to sustaining healthy populations. Widespread habitat loss threatens the species and has raised conservation concerns. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed the Acadian Flycatcher as endangered.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is taking steps to help protect the Acadian Flycatcher’s habitat. Their efforts include the acquisition and management of land, the creation of conservation easements, and the promotion of sustainable forestry practices 3.

In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has identified the Acadian Flycatcher as a Species of Concern, which means that it is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Overall, the Acadian Flycatcher’s population remains stable, but conservation efforts are necessary to ensure its survival in the face of habitat loss and other threats.

Identification

Physical Description

The Acadian Flycatcher is a small passerine bird with a length of about 5.5 inches and a wingspan of 8-9 inches. It has a distinctive olive-green upperparts and pale yellowish-green underparts. The head is flat, with a short bill and a whitish eyering that contrasts with its dark eye. The wings are relatively short and pointed, with two white wing bars that are visible in flight. The tail is relatively long and squared at the tip.

Vocalizations

The Acadian Flycatcher is known for its distinctive vocalizations. Its primary song is a two-note “peet-sah” or “peet-weet” that is repeated several times. The first note is higher than the second note, and the song is often described as sounding like “pizza” or “beer.” The call is often heard in the breeding season, and can be used to identify the bird’s presence even when it is not visible.

In addition to its primary song, the Acadian Flycatcher has several other vocalizations that it uses for communication. It has a “whit” call that is used for contact and alarm, and a “pit” call that is used for aggression and territorial defense. The bird also has a “dawn song” that is used during the early morning hours, and a “dusk song” that is used during the late evening hours.

Overall, the Acadian Flycatcher is a distinctive bird that is easily identified by its physical characteristics and vocalizations. Its unique features make it a popular bird for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

An Acadian Flycatcher perches on a branch, its olive-green feathers blending into the foliage. It watches intently, ready to dart out and catch an insect in mid-flight

What distinguishes the Acadian Flycatcher’s call from other flycatchers?

The Acadian Flycatcher’s call is a distinctive “peet-sah” or “peet-sah-ah” sound, which is quite different from the calls of other flycatchers. The call is an explosive, high-pitched sound that is often repeated several times in quick succession.

How can you identify a female Acadian Flycatcher?

Male and female Acadian Flycatchers look very similar, with olive-green upperparts and pale underparts. However, the female is slightly smaller than the male, and has a slightly duller plumage.

What constitutes the primary diet of the Acadian Flycatcher?

The Acadian Flycatcher feeds primarily on insects, especially flies, beetles, and moths. They catch their prey by flying out from a perch and snatching insects in mid-air.

What are the dimensions of an Acadian Flycatcher, including weight and length?

The Acadian Flycatcher is a small bird, measuring about 5.5 to 6 inches (14 to 15 cm) in length. They weigh around 0.3 to 0.4 ounces (8 to 12 g).

How does the Acadian Flycatcher construct its nest and where is it typically located?

The Acadian Flycatcher constructs its nest in the fork of a tree branch, usually about 10 to 30 feet (3 to 9 m) above the ground. The nest is built from grass, moss, and other plant materials, and is lined with soft materials like feathers and hair.

What are some interesting facts about the Acadian Flycatcher’s behavior or ecology?

The Acadian Flycatcher is known for its unique breeding behavior. Unlike most songbirds, which lay one egg per day until the clutch is complete, Acadian Flycatchers lay one egg every other day. This allows the female to incubate the eggs more efficiently, since they all hatch at the same time. Additionally, the Acadian Flycatcher is sensitive to habitat fragmentation, and is considered a good indicator species for the health of mature deciduous forests.