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.”