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Acadian Flycatcher

One of the hard to identify species in the group known as the Empidonax flycatchers, the Acadian Flycatcher breeds in the eastern U.S. and winters in Central America.

One of the hard to identify species in the group known as the Empidonax flycatchers, the Acadian Flycatcher breeds in the eastern U.S. and winters in Central America. The migration route of Acadian Flycatchers can either take them by land along the east coast of Mexico, or directly across the Gulf of Mexico in an overwater flight.

As a flycatcher, Acadian Flycatchers do catch some insects in midair, but they primarily sally forth to capture insects perched on leaves. Males defend breeding territories, while females primarily defend just the vicinity of the nest.


Description of the Acadian Flycatcher


Acadian Flycatcher

Photograph © Greg Lavaty

The Acadian Flycatcher is olive above, with yellowish eye rings and two buffy wing bars. The underside of its bill is mostly yellow.

Acadian Flycatcher

Photograph © Greg Lavaty


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Very little, although wing bars are buffier in the fall.


Juveniles have buffier wing bars than adults.


Moist, deciduous forests, especially beech groves.




Acadian Flycatchers fly out from a perch to capture insects in flight, or pick them off of vegetation while hovering.


Acadian Flycatchers breed widely over the eastern U.S. They winter in Central and South America.

Fun Facts

The Acadian Flycatcher is the only member of its genus to nest in the southern U.S.

Rates of nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds are higher in fragmented forests than in unfragmented forests.


The song is an emphatic Peet-za with the accent on the first syllable.

Similar Species

Other members of the genus Empidonax are very similar. Acadian Flycatchers have very long primary projection, meaning that the primaries extend far beyond the longest tertials.

They are quite green above and yellowish below, though not so yellow as the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Also see vocalizations.


The Acadian Flycatcher’s nest is a cup of stems, twigs, and grasses and is lined with finer materials. It is placed in a horizontal fork of a tree or shrub.

Number: 2-4.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at about 13-15 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) at about 13-15 days, but associate with the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the Acadian Flycatcher

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Acadian Flycatcher – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.



This small flycatcher is hardly to be identified by sight alone. So closely indeed does it resemble the related species trailli and minimue that even the most skillful field observers cannot certainly distinguish between them. The greater then is the need for dwelling upon characteristics of range, habitat, mode of nest building, and notes, for in each of these viresc*~ns is peculiar, and by one or another of them, in the summer season at least, identification may be made sure.

This is a bird of the Austral Zones; trailli and minim’u8 are of more northerly range; and it is only northward of Mason and Dixon’s line that there is overlapping. Southward of that line t~ire8cen~ is of the three the only breeding species.

E. trailli is a bird of alder thickets, of willow-grown stream margins; minimus is found in orchards and in open, bush-grown places, cultivated and waste; but virascens is found in the forest: in cypress swamps, in heavily wooded bottomlands, in the depths of wooded ravines.

Of its habitat in Florida, Williams (1928) quotes from Herbert L. Stoddard this: “About four other pairs inhabit a half mile of this strip of swamp and I find the bird a fairly common summer resident in similar situations along small water courses in northern Leon County.” Kopman (1915), writing of the bird in Louisiana, says it is found “in swampy woods of every character. It is evenly distributed throughout the wet wooded lands of the fertile alluvial region, and occurs wherever there are river swamps and creek bottoms in other sections.” In the Okefenokee Swamp, of Georgia, say Wright and Harper (1913), the bird “finds a congenial haunt in the gloom of the cypress ‘bays,’ where one often hears its note as he paddles along the narrow runs. It also frequents the hammocks and the cypress ponds.” In the Great Dismal Swamp, of Virginia, according to Daniel (1902), it is “not uncommon along the margins of the inlets, notably where the foliage forms a canopy over the water.” In western North Carolina, wrote Brewster (1886), “everywhere below 3000 feet this Flycatcher is a very common species, inhabiting all kinds of cover, but occurring most numerously in rhododendron thickets bordering streams, where its abrupt, explosive note of wick y-up could be heard at all times of the day.” Schorger (1927), writing of conditions in Wisconsin, says, “The essential requirement of the Acadian Flycatcher appears to be a large tract of undisturbed timber. The typical habitat is a deep, well-wooded ravine having a rocky stream bed, which is usually dry. It may also be looked for in the heavy timber of the river bottoms and in tamarack swamps in the southern portion of the state.” W. E. Saunders (1909), who discovered the bird in Ontario, wrote, “About fifty miles southeast of Detroit and only a few miles from Lake Erie there was formerly an immense black ash swamp, portions of which are still in existence, and it was in these, where the mosquitoes were of sufficient quantity to feed a large number of Flycatchers, that I found the Acadians.” Simmons (1925) characterized its habitat in central Texas as “open glades in timber near running water, and along creeks; wooded ravines; rarely in heavy woodlands, usually in dry, deciduous second-growths along water courses; Spanish oaks overhanging creek valleys in hills; wooded roadsides; deep, shady woodlands or second-growth forests, watered by small streams, and with either little or much undergrowth and vine-tangle.”

In my own territory, of the eroded ravines of southwestern Pennsylvania, the bird is abundant in its peculiar habitat. It is found along streams in wooded ravines. The timber is almost wholly of hardwoods; and it is where the pendent lower branches of great beeches overhang the small streams that these birds are most likely to be found.

It is because of the remarkable likenesses between the small flycatchers of the genus Esnpidonax that the early ornithologists, having nothing to go by and necessarily feeling their way, gave confused and misleading accounts. Wilson (1810), for instance, characterized the Acadian flycatcher excellently well. (He called it the small green-crested flycatcher.) He manifestly knew the bird in the field; but he added to his account a description of nest and eggs that certainly belongs, not to vire8cen.s, but to mirnmu8. Audubon (1831) first described trailli, and the brothers Baird (1843), minisinus. It remained for Henshaw (1876), Wheaton (1882), Brewster (1~95), and Oberholser (1918) to complete accurate analyaes of the three species.

It is, indeed, in consequence of confusion that virescens carries today the inappropriate vernacular name, Acadian flycatcher. The name was applied initially to a bird taken in Acadia, that is to say in Nova Scotia. The bird, so taken, was held to be the type specimen, until, in the light of fuller knowledge, the truth appeared that this species never reaches Nova Scotia, and that the bird first called acadicus must have been of one of the other species. The technical name acadicus was thereupon changed to ‘virescens,~ but, in English, Acadian flycatcher had become too well established and has not been supplanted.

Spring: Returning from their wintering grounds in northwestern South America, the birds begin to enter their breeding range early in April and by the middle of May have completed their migration. S. S. Dickey, of Waynesburg, Greene County, Pa., writes (MS.): “After their return from winter quarters the males are quite combative. They may then be seen chasing one another up and down the courses of the ravines. So intent are they that, heedless of a man’s presence, they will dash up almost into his face. While they primarily fight off other males of their own species, I have noticed that they attack and drive vireos, tanagers, and warbiers from their nesting territories” Nesti~g: E. trailli and minim’u.r both build cup-shaped nests, resting in crotches between upstanding shoots or twigs of such trees of low growth as alder and sumac; ‘virescens swings her nest hammock-wise between horizontally spreading twigs. It is a frail, shallow basket of fine, dry plant stems or other fibrous strands, hung by its rim between slender forked twigs. In the region of my own observation (southwestern Pennsylvania), great beech trees stand along the narrow bottomlands of the wooded ravines; the lower branches droop and spread out horizontally toward their leafbearing tips; and it is in these places that the flycatchers commonly place their nests. They may hang them at a height of 8 or 10 feet, and often directly over some pooi in the course of the stream.

At the time of nest building (the last week in May) the cankerworms (Pa~eacrita vernata) are in their heyday. Their threads hang everywhere through the woods, and as one presses through the undergrowth they cling to one’s perspiring forehead; the caterpillars themselves, “measuring worms,” caught upon the clothing, climb upward to one’s neck. In the hanging threads of silk the falling withered staminate flowers of forest trees and the scales of opening buds are caught. These airy festoons the flycatchers catch up and carry to their nests. In my region, at least, the wild silk so gathered forms an ever-present, and, as I judge, an essential nest-building material. The strands are collected in such quantity as to form a web, and this web commonly swathes the supporting crotch. It spreads upon the nest rim and in it the ends of the frail and loose vegetable fibres are enmeshed. The effect is that the structure, of flimsiest appearance, is in fact adequate to outlast its usefulness. I quote from my own notebook of observations made in Allegheny County, Pa.: “May 30. Acadian flycatchers nest-building at the tip of a pendent lowest branch of a large beech, about 15 feet up, and immediately above the stream. Nest seemingly all but finished. The birds paid little attention to my presence. One, the female presumably, seemed to do all the building. The male called at intervals, and once or twice it flew up as the female came in to the nest. The female kept calling too, more frequently than the male, and continued even when she was in her nest. Her call note is softer than the male’s and less emphatic. Once when she was in the nest I heard a reiterated chattering note, and occasionally (also from the nest) a softer, whistled note with falling inflection. When the rii~ale approached, the notes of one or perhaps of both birds were softer and more musical.

“As the female repeatedly flew in I thought once or twice that I detected material in her bill, but, standing in shadow and looking upward toward a bright sky, I could not be sure. Generally I could see nothing. Seated within her nest, the bird kept reaching over the rim and seemed to be engaged in drawing strands of material (silk?) over the rim of the nest inward. This was the oft-repeated and, indeed, the chipf action of the bird at the nest. Once or twice she remained for a minute or more, but ordinarily her visits were of shorter duration.”

When the building is done, threads of silk with the entangled blossoms are conunonly left, streaming from the rim of the nest. The appearance from without-is lacking in symmetry; it is altogether casual; and the nest on that account must commonly be overlooked by marauders. It would be an interesting matter of inquiry what the value of wild silk as nest-building material may be to such birds as the wood pewee, the hummingbirds, the gnatcatcher, and the vireos.

I collected the nest about which I have spoken, after the brood had flown from it, and took it to Dr. 0. E. Jennings, botanist of the Carnegie Museum, asking him to be good enough to analyse the materials. This he has generously done and has given me the following report:

“The main body of the nest is composed of a tangled mass of very slender herbaceous stems and branches mostly averaging between 1/4 and 1 mm. in diameter. Many of these are specked with decay fungi and were probably dead when gathered. It is noteworthy that no grass leaves were used in the nest.

“There are a few strips of grapevine bark, but these were apparently of not much importance and are not much interwoven. There are, however, a few coiled grapevine tendrils (small ones) which by their coiled and twisted character help to hold the loose nest together. The main binding material in the nest consists of cobwebs to which the various small twigs and also bits of dead leaves of various kinds are sticking. The small slender twigs making up most of the framework evidently come from woodland herbs rather than those growing out in the open, the woodland habitat also being indicated by the thin nature of the bits of leaves. It seems rather likely that such woodland plants as sweet cicely and honewort are the source of this material, and it is also noteworthy that no grass leaves are involved, grasses being scarce in shaded woodlands.”

Here is evidence that the bird during nesting season confines itself to a narrow territory. And yet, somewhat at variance with this, is a report from Prof. Maurice Brooks (MS.), of Morgantown, W. Va., who writes of finding nests woven of poverty grass (Dantho-nia spwata), a material that must have been brought more than a quarter of a mile, from the open fields where it could be found. Additional descriptions of nests in situ follow:

S. F. Rathbun writes (MS.) of a nest in New York, on the shore of Lake Ontario, saying, “The other day I found a green crested flycatcher’s nest [= virescens] when at the lake. It was built on the horizontal fork of a maple sapling at a height of 12 feet. It was made of very small hemlock twigs, interwoven with the maple blossoms one sees so plentifully now. That was the body of the nest, and to its under part the birds had attached, by using spiders’ web or filaments, a loose string of the maple blossoms, until it formed a pendulous mass, 8 inches or more long, that came conically to a point; and this would sway in every breath of wind. The nest was a very beautiful affair.”

W. E. Saunders (1910), describing a nest taken in southwestern Ontario, says, “The nest is composed of fine grasses and rootlets bound together on the outside by what appears to be caterpillar web. The well known habit of this species of making the nest appear like an accidental bunch of drift, by the addition of loose flowers of alder, walnut or oak, is varied in this instance by the substitution of a large number of bud scales, apparently of beech. The nest is, as usual, shallow, the cavity measuring 7/~ of an inch deep, by 1½ inches wide, while the external measurements are 5 x 2.”

Elliott Coues (1880) was one of the first to make clear the distinction between this species and F. trailli. He quotes from a correspondent, Otto Widmann, who bad sent him specimen nests of both, and had written, saying, “I have seen many nests of acadicws [= vireacens] in the woods, as they are easily found, hanging in conspicuous places between 12 and 25 feet above ground. They were all made alike, the only difference being that some were more difficult to collect than others, hanging on slender limbs far from the trunk of the tree.” Dr. Cones then describes the Acadian nests. These Mr. Widinann had taken in St. Louis County, Mo. He continues:

The two nests of this species [acadicus] are strikingly different from the three of traifli In structure, in material, and in position. They appear to have been taken from long, slender, horizontal branchlets, In the horizontal forks of which they rest. They are shallow nests: in fact, rather saucer-like than cup-shaped, some 3½ inches across outside, by less than 2 inches in depth; the cavity over 2 inches across the brim, by scarcely 1 inch in depth. They are very light, “open-work” structures, so thinly floored that the eggs may have been visible to one looking up from below; and the walls, though more compact, still let daylight through on all sides. These nests, in short, may be compared to light hammocks swung between forks. Each is composed almost entirely of long walnut (Carya) aments, which, drooping in slender sprays from all sides, give a tasteful, airy effect to these pretty structures. There is a slight lining in each case of slender grass-stems and still finer rootlets, loosely Interlaid in every direction on the bottom, rather circularly disposed around the brim. Tbese specimens were taken June 13 and 18, 1879, In hickory woods, at altitudes of 10 and 16 feet.

Natural historians, in their thoughtlessness, are apt to speak slightingly of the Acadian’s nest-building ability; but they produce no evidence of inadequacy; and, when attention is given to the matter, her nest will be seen to be, as such products commonly are, a perfect piece of artistry, utterly sufficient to her need. As for durability, Prof. Brooks writes (MS.), “The nests are highly deceptive in appearance. They are so loosely woven as frequently to make possible the counting of the eggs from below. Despite this apparent looseness, the nests are resistant to winter storms, and it is not unusual to find solidly suspended nests in early spring, before the leaves have appeared. I saw one nest which lasted through two winters, being still fairly firm at the beginning of the third season.”

The material that, caught in caterpillar thread, hangs from the nests is commonly, as has been said, small faded flowers or bud scales; it may be bits of bark, the dust of wood-borers, or whatever litter sifts through the woods.

In the South, Spanish moss is a frequently used nesting material. Stockard (1905), writing of conditions in Mississippi, says, “Two nests taken in Adams County were very interestingly constructed, being composed entirely of Spanish moss woven between the prongs of small elm forks. A surplus of moss was used so that long beards or streamers of it hung down for a length of eighteen inches below the actual nest. This arrangement gave the exact appearance of ordinary bunches of this gray moss hanging from the branches. Both nests would have been passed unnoticed but for the fact that the birds flew off as I passed under the limbs.”

Williams (1928) says of a nest collected in Leon County, Fla., that it was composed “entirely of Spanish moss and imbedded in a cluster of that epiphyte.”

I have before me the records of 55 nests, 49 collected in the North, 6 in the South. Nearly all were placed in the lower branches of large trees; a few in saplings, shrubs, and bushes. Of 44 northern nests, 20 were in beech trees, 8 in maples, 3 in hemlocks, 2 in hickories, 2 in white oaks; and 1 each in elm, locust, linden, walnut, elder, wild apple, red haw, hazel, and witch-hazel. Of the 6 southern nests, 2 were hung in cypresses, 2 in water oaks, and 1 each in elm and sweet gum. In southwestern Pennsylvania the nest is commonly placed in a beech; but in South Carolina Wayne (1910) has found it to be “invariably built in the forks of a dogwood tree (Cornus florida)”; and Brimley (1889), writing of nests found in the vicinity of Raleigh, N. C., says that “about half of them are placed in small dogwoods, the balance being in post oak, water oak, sweet gum, birch and tulip poplar trees, sweet gum being second favorite to dogwood.”

In height the average of 44 nests was 101/2 feet. Thirty-three were between 8 and 20 feet; one was as low at ~½ feet; two were as high as 25. Twelve overhung water: a flowing stream or a cypress swamp.

Eggs: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Acadian flycatcher lays two to four eggs to a set, usually three. They vary from ovate, the commonest shape, to elliptical-ovate and have very little or no gloss. The ground color varies from creamy white to huffy white. They are sparingly marked with small spots or minute dots, generally mainly near the larger end of the egg, of different shades of brown, such as “liver brown” or “ferruginous,” the darker colors being commoner. The measurements of 50 eggs average 18.4 by 13.8 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 19.8 by 14.5, 20.1 by 14.7, 16.5 by 13.7, and 16.8 by 12.7 millimeters.]

Young: The period of incubation, as observed by Harold M. Holland (MS.), of Galesburg, Ill., is 13 days.

Butler (1897) makes record, fide V. H. Barnett, of a young bird that could not fly well, shot in Warren County, md., on September 25. This, of course, is abnormally late.

Plumages: [Aurn:on’s ~’io~: The small, nearly naked nestling is sparingly clothed in whitish down, which adheres to the tips of the juvenal plumage. A half-grown nestling before me has a “light brownish olive” crown, with pale buff edgings; the back and rump are similar, with the widest edgings on the rump; the median and greater wing coverts on the half-grown wings are broadly tipped with “light ochraceous-buff”; the secondaries are narrowly and the tertials more broadly edged with the same color; the chin is white, the chest tinged with olive-gray, and the abdomen is white to yellowish white. In an older bird, taken in August and fully grown, the edgings on the upper parts have worn away and the plumage has a greener east; the under parts are all white, except for an obscure olive-gray pectoral band.

Apparently a partial postjuvenal molt of the body plumage, mainly after the birds have left for the south, produces a first winter plumage which is not very different from the above. Adults probably have a complete postnuptial molt after migrating, but, for lack of winter specimens, we do not know what molts take place during the winter and early spring.]

Food: Prof. Beal (1912), of the Biological Survey, examined the contents of the stomachs of 100 Acadian flycatchers “collected in 14 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada, and from April to October,” and found “97.05 per cent of animal matter and 2.95 per cent of vegetable.” His more detailed report is as follows:

Animal food: Beetles are eaten to the extent of 18.76 per cent of the whole food. Of these 1.66 per cent are of the three prominently useful familles (Carabide, Clcindelid~, and Coccinellid~). The others were of more or less harniful families and include such well known pests as spotted cucumber beetle (Diabroticiz 1~-punctata), rose beetle (Macrodactylu8 e~4b8piflOsa), rice weevil (Calandro or~,zw), and a scolytid. Beetles were found in 76 stomachs and were eaten quite regularly till October, when none were taken.

Wasps, bees, and ants amounted to 39.93, or practically 40, per cent of the bird’s food, and are eaten so regularly that no month’s consumption falls much below the average. They were found in 76 stomachs, or 84 percent of all, and four were entirely filled wIth them. Ants were contained in 29 stomachs and parasitic species In 13, but some of the latter may have been overlooked, owing to their broken condition. Hymenoptera as a whole are the largest Item of animal food with this as well as most other flycatchers. Flies (Diptera) amount to &15 percent of the food, and are not taken as regularly as Hymenoptera and in October are not eaten at all. They were noted in 39 stomachs and were the sole contents of 1. Most of them are of the housefly family, but a few long-legged crane flies were found in 5 stomachs. Bugs are eaten still less than flies. They amount to 6.03 percent, but are not taken very regularly and not at all in October. They were contained in 29 stomachs and consisted of such families as the leaf hoppers, tree hoppers, stinkbugs, and assassin bugs.

Orthoptera were found In 1 stomach taken in Florida In April and 2 collected in Pennsylvania in September, but the percentage in each of these 3 stomachs was so great that the amount for the whole season is 6.38 per cent of the food, or more than the last item. The contents of the Florida stomach could not be determined further than that they were orthopterous, but the contents of the other 2 were identified as ~Ecant1tue aiveus, the snowy tree cricket, known in some places as the August bird. As these creatures are rather nocturnal in their habits and not much given to flying at any time, it is rather surprising to find that a flycatcher had nearly filled its stomach with them.

Moths, in both the adult and larval form (caterpillars), are second in Importance in the animal food. They are taken pretty regularly in every month, but with some falling off in July. The amount for the whole season is 18.87 per cent. They were found in 38 stomachs, of which 31 contained caterpillars and 8 held moths; 3 contained no other food. No special pest was observed among them. A few miscellaneous insects, such as dragon flies, scorpion flies, and a few insects not identified, amount to 0.99 per cent, and have no special interest. Spiders and millepeds were eaten in moderate quantities from April to August. They amount to 2.94 per cent and complete the quota of animal food. As usual, many of them were the long-legged harvestmen or daddy longlegs.

Vegetable food: Fruit was found in 5 stomachs and vegetable refuse in 1. There were a few seeds of blackberries or raspberries, and these were the only things that could have been the product of cultivation. The rest was wlld fruit of no eeonomic value.

Summary: The habits of the Acadian flycatcher do not lead it to the garden or orchard, and its food has little direct economic interest. It does not catch many useful insects and, as it does not prey upon any product of cultivation, it may well be considered as one of those species whose function is to help keep the great flood of insect life down to a level compatible with the best interests of other forms of life.

It is a well-established result of observation that an animal and its environment are accommodated to each other as hand and glove; and accordingly it is a fair inference that if only we had eyes to see we should discover some peculiarity: in food supply, in all likelihood: that would afford us the reason why this little bird is not widely and generally distributed but found only in restricted areas of specialized sort.

Prof. Beal’s report, informing though it is, does not afford certain guidance in following that inquiry. The food found in a bird’s stomach is broken and macerated. Here and there a particular insect may be recognized, but for the greater part it is hardly possible to go beyond family or genus; and, since the genera of insects are widely distributed, one could hardly hope to discover a predominance of forms characteristic of forested ravines. One clue, however, lying in Prof. Beal’s data, is this: The score that virescen8 makes in the consumption of Lepidoptera is exceptionally high. With difficilis, Lepidoptera make up 5.68 percent of the total consumption; with trailli, ‘1.73 percent; with minim~us, 7.27 percent; but with virescens Lepidoptera make up 18.87 percent of the whole, and the creatures are largely consumed when in larval state. Among the Lepidoptera, Paleacrita vernata, the common canker moth, is worthy of note, because it abounds in the haunts of virescefle and because, in the northern latitudes at least, the silk that its caterpillar produces is, as has been noted, an invariable and seemingly an indispensable item of this bird’s nest-building material. These caterpillars are abundant late in May and early in June; in July they are gone; but after a month or more those of another species succeed them. The indications are quite definite that, in the North at least, the cankerworm fills an important place in the economy of the Acadian flycatcher.

Behavior: Generally speaking, virescens is a very inconspicuous bird. It must be sought for to be seen. Throughout the summer it does not leave its woodland habitat, and while nesting its territory may be no more than one or two hundred yards across. It may ordinarily be found perched in deep shade, less than 20 feet from the ground, and well beneath the canopy of foliage. It flits its tail as it calls, and it hawks its prey in the manner common to all flycatchers. Todd (1940) says that it is shy and suspicious and contrives to keep well out of sight; and adds that “like other flycatchers, it is a solitary bird; each pair, after having settled for the season, has its own definite territorial limits beyond which it does not pass unchallenged.” Langille (1884), writing from western New York, says:

In a shadowy part of the woods, where young hemlocks are thickly inter~persed, I hear sharp, quick notes, pee-whee, quce-ree-ee, which I at once recognize as those of the Small ~reen-crested Flycatcher (Em pidona~,, acadku8), a very common summer resident of our upland woods. I look sharply into the shadows for some time before I get sight of it. It Is perched on a dead 11mb, near the base of a small hemlock; and always accompanies its note with a quick jerk of the tail. Like the rest of the Flycatchers, it sits still on Its perch and waits for its prey; and when that prey appears, be it beetle, fly, or moth, It darts quickly after It, cutting a smooth curve, which is sure to intercept it, and seizing It with a sharp click of the mandibles. With its Quick. well-directed movement, the broad gape of Its deeply cleft mouth and tangle of bristles on either side of It, there is but a slim chance of escape for Its victim.

In the matter of confidence as against timidity, testimonies are various and inconsistent. Brownell (1887), writing from Plymouth, Mich., remarks that “the sharp chirp of the female often repeated was an infallible guide to its nest.” Brimley (1889), froln Raleigh, N. C., says that “they leave [the nest] so quietly and unobtrusively on the approach of man as to make it next to impossible to find the nest by flushing the bird.” Similarly, Wayne (1910), writing from Charleston, S. C., says, “When the birds are building nests or in. cubating their eggs they are always extremely shy, and leave the nest long before a person has approached within twenty-five yards of its location.” Stockard (1905) writing from Adams County, Miss., calls this “a species with most retiring habits. The nest may be found and removed without the birds having made their appearance or the slightest sound.” He describes two nests particularly and adds that lie would have failed to find them, “but for the fact that the birds flew off as I passed under the limbs.” Brewster (1886), writing from western North Carolina, says, “It is one of the tamest and least suspicious of the small Flycatchers, but owing to its retiring disposition, and habit of sitting perfectly motionless among the foliage, it is much oftener heard than seen.” Sutton (1928) tells of an experience in Crawford County, Pa.: “By closely watching a female on May 26 I found a nest just ready for e~~s partially suspended from a long, swaying beech limb. On May 30 the nest was complete. On June 3 it held three eggs. This nest, which was over twenty feet from ground, was secured by making a huge tripod from three saplings bound together at one end. Though the branch was considerably shaken and swayed the female would not leave until I touched her.” I have myself stood within 10 feet of a bird upon her nest in a low sapling. And no doubt it is true that the stage to which incubation has advanced is a factor in the equipoise between behaviors that we call timid and courageous.

It has sometimes been intimated that the bird breeds in colonies (see, for instance, Porter, 1907), but this, no doubt, is a hasty conclusion, drawn from the fact that within the now greatly restricted areas of suitable habitat it ordinarily is common. In the course of half a mile along a woodland stream I have found as many as six pairs resident, but have discovered no evidence of interdependence between them. In the same territory pairs of ovenbirds were as closely spaced, and were far more abundant, since they were settled over the slopes of the ravine, while the flycatchers were confined to the margin of the stream.

Coues (1880) quotes Widmann, who, speaking of conditions in St. Louis County, Mo., says of acadicus (=virescens) that, while found in the forests only, it there is “very abundant: that means, one pair to every few acres.”

Dr. Sutton writes (MS.) from Bethany, W. Va.: “The Acadian Flycatcher may be more active in the late summer than at any other season. Watchful as it is for passing insects, it must now devote part of its time to the keeping of its plumage free of the webs encountered in capturing its prey. I have at this season watched the bird on its perch, fluttering wings and tail, running its bill rapidly along its feathers, scratching its face with its foot, and so casting off these shreds of silk.”

If it were possible to rename the bird, it should be called Empidonax sari cif arena, the silk-bearing Empidonax.

Voice: The oft-repeated cry when on the nesting ground is of two syllables run into one: abrupt, startling, a hiccup of a song. Ka-zeap, one writer vocalizes it; Wick y-up, another. And Warren (1890) gives, as a vernacular name, Hick-up. Wilson (1810) wrote:

“This bird is but little known. It inhabits the deepest, thick shaded, solitary parts of the woods, sits generally on the lower branches, utters, every half minute or so, a sudden sharp squeak, which is heard a considerable way thro the woods; and as it ffies from one tree to another has a low querulous note, something like the twitterings of chickens nestling under the wings of the hen. On alighting this sound ceases; and it utters its note as before.” (A good instance this of the Father of American Ornithology at his best in characterization.)

Bradford Torrey (1896) speaks of “the petulant, snappish cry of an Acadian flycatcher.” Aretas A. Saunders (1935) writes:

The song is two-syllabled, the second note higher than the first, with a slight burr in it, and a little longer and strongly accented, like “kw-reep.” This is repeated at short intervals through the breeding season.

The call note is a simple “peet,” and the bird also sometimes produces a series of short musical notes all on one pitch, “we-we-we-we-wa,” which resemble strongly the sound produced by the Mourning Dove in flight, and are supposed by many to be made by the wings. The bird sometimes produces ibis sound when In flight, as the Dove most frequently does.

Of this sound, supposed by many to be made by the wings, Brewster (1882a) wrote, “They [the Acadian Flycatehers] had another note also which was much like the whistling of wings. I afterwards satisfied myself that this sound was a vocal one.”

An excellent record of the calls of this bird is that of Simmons (1925) “A single peet or 8pee, with a twitch of the tail; or a louder pee-e-yuk, uttered with wings trembling and bill pointed up. A soft, murmuring, whistling call, rarely heard, uttered during a short, fluttering flight. A loud, quick, and emphatic, or again, faint and fretful, t8hee-kee, tehee-kee, or “what-d’-see, what-d’-ye-see.” A short wick-up or hick-up, followed by a harsh, abrupt queep-queep. A short whoty-whoty. Calls frequently uttered.” S. S. Dickey wries (MS.): “They are markedly noisy just before twilight, when the woods are still.”

The song period, as given by Baerg (1930) for Arkansas, is from May 1: June 4 to July 26: August 28.

Field marks: As has been said, the bird must be identified in the field by habitat and note (or by nest structure, if a nest be found). As to appearance, here are the baffling findings of those best qualified to speak. Griscom (1923), for example, says:

The identifiability in life of the species of Empidona3, is a matter to which Messrs. W. DeW. Miller, 3. T. Nichols. C. H. Rogers and the writer have given special attention. Collecting has proved that in spite of the greatest care, it is ~mposaible to be absolutely certain in separating the Acadian, Alder and Least Fiycatchers by color characters even in the spring. In the fall plumage it is out of the question, the determination of museum skins often being very critical. It is quite true that extremes in size or highly piumaged individuals can often be named with approximate certainty, but even here collecting has proved a low percentage of error. * * * They are exasperating birds. Every spring and fall I see individuals which I am convinced are one or the other, but all too rarely will they open their mouths and sing their names.

Sutton (1928) writes: “In the fall this species [virescens] is almost impossible to identify, save by collecting specimens. However we are~ positive of three records * * * (identification through callnote.) * * * This call-note might be written ‘weece’, energetically uttered.”

Todd (1940) writes: “It is necessary to discard or at least to question the accounts of the earlier authors, who more or less confused this with other species * * ~’. As a matter of fact, once one has become familiar with their haunts and habits and in particular with their call notes, it is probably easier to distinguish them in life than in preserved specimens.”

Enemies: Occasionally, though not often, this bird becomes a host for the cowbird (Molothru~s ater). Evermann (1889), in writing of the birds of Carroll County, md., said of the Acadian flycatcher that it is “one of the most frequent victims of the Cowbird”; but Friedmann (1929), after a careful review, writes: “I know of but few definite records, although many writers claim to have found parasitized nests of the Acadian Flycatcher. Twenty-two records2 ranging from New England, and Pennsylvania, west to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan have been found. * * * Of these twenty-two no fewer than twelve come from southern Pennsylvania (Jacobs, Oologist, May, 1924, pp. 52: 54) .”

In qualification of Mr. Jacobs’s finding, it should be observed that the nests of virescems were but 12 in number, in a total of 234 nests of various species that held cowbird eggs.

Bendire (1895) says: “Occasionally t.he Acadian Flycatcher builds a double nest: for instance, when a Cowbird has deposited an egg in one just. completed, before the owner has laid in it. Mr. W. E. Loucks, of Peoria, Illinois, sends me such a record. The nest found by him contained a Cowbird’s egg in the lower story and three fresh eggs in the upper one.~~ But for this, it does not appear that the Acadian flycatcher is a species heavily preyed upon. The number of eggs that it lays and the fact that (so far as is known) no more than one brood is normally raised in a season indicate that it is a vigorous species, with few enemies.

Miller (1915) has remarked upon the decrease in the numbers of Acadian fiycatc~ers in the vicinity of Philadelphia; and Griscom (1923) has made similar comment upon conditions in the vicinity of New York City. The latter is at a loss to find explanation; but the former undoubtedly recognizes the true reason, in observing that in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, where the extensive forests cover the banks of the stream with both conifers and deciduous trees, the species is apparently increasing. When the forests are cut away the bird disappears. Certainly in its proper environment it continues to be abundant.

Range: Eastern United States and southern Ontario; winters in northwestern South America.

Breeding range: The breeding range of the Acadian flycatcher extends north to northeastern Nebraska (West Point) ; Iowa (Sioux City, Woodward, and McGregor); southern Wisconsin (Prairie du Sac and Calhoun); northern Michigan (Blaney and probably Sault Ste. Marie); southern Ontario (probably Coldstream and Dunnville); northern New York (Lockport, Watertown, and Albany); and southern Vermont (Bennington). East to Vermont (Bennington); Massachusetts (Hyde Park) ; Connecticut (Danbury and Stamford) ; and south along the coast to southeastern Georgia (St. Marys); and Florida (Gainesville). South to northern Florida (Gainesville, Oldtown, Tallahassee, and Pensacola); southern Louisiana (New Orleans) ; and Texas (Houston and San Antonio) West to central Texas (San Antonio and Kerrville); Oklahoma (Minco, Tulsa, and Copan); eastern Kansas (Wichita, Emporia, and Geary); and eastern Nebraska (Omaha and West Point).

Winter range: During the winter season thi~ species is concentrated in eastern Colombia (Bonda, Puerto Valdivia, Puerto Rico, and Las Lomitas) and eastern Ecuador (Cachair, Rio de Oro, and Chimbo). One was collected at Palinul, Quintana Roo, on February 9, 1910, but this may have been merely a case of exceptionally early migration.

Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Florida: Whitfield, April 6. Georgia: Savannah, April 4. South Carolina: Mount Pleasant, April 7. North Carolina: Raleigh, April 20. District of Columbia: Washington, April 25. Pennsylvania: Waynesboro, April 25. New Jersey: Englewood, May 5. New York: Lockport, May 13. Louisiana: New Orleans, March 30. Arkansas: Helena, April 20. Kentucky: Eubank, April 18. Missouri: St. Louis, April 27. Indiana: Waterloo, May 1. Ohio: Oberlin, May 4. Michigan: Petersburg, May 8. Iowa: Hillsboro, May 5. Illinois: Chicago, May 6. Wisconsin: Milwaukee, May 11. Texas: San Antonio, April 14. Oklahoma: Norman, April 30. Kansas: Lawrence, May 2. Nebraska: Childs Point, May 6.

Fall migration: Late dates of fall departure are: Kansas: Lawrence, September 30. Oklahoma: Norman, September 11. Wisconsin: New London, August 24. fllinois: Rantoul, October 12. lowa: Sigourney, October 14. Ontario: Harrow, September 5. Michigan: Detroit, September 28. Ohio: Ashtabula County, October 3. Kentucky: Danville, October 26. Louisiana: Covington, October 27. New York: Rochester, September 26. New Jersey: Elizabeth, September 29. District of Columbia: Washington, September 15. North Carolina: Chapel Hill, September 23. South Carolina: Mount Pleasant, September 22. Georgia: Athens, September 28. Florida: Tallahassee, October 9.

Casual records: One was collected at Pine Ridge, in northwestern Nebraska, on May 26, 1900.

Egg dates: Michigan: 7 records, May 30 to June 25.

New York: 10 records, June 5 to July 4; 6 records, June 6 to 17, indicating the height of the season.

Pennsylvania :44 records, May 21 to June 23; 22 records, June 3 to 10.

South Carolina: 15 records, April 28 to July 8; 9 records, May 27 to June 27.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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