For a couple of years, my wife, Emily, has been asking for a piece about a favorite bird of hers, one that we enjoy watching in our yard each summer, the high-spirited Great Crested Flycatcher. As week after week went by without a flycatcher piece, it became sort of a running joke. “What should I write about this week?”, I would say. “You know”, she’d reply. Well, at long last, the time has come. This week’s subject is, the Acadian Flycatcher. Oops – sorry Emily. Wrong flycatcher.
I’ll definitely get to the Great Crested Flycatcher another week, because they are indeed one of our more interesting local nesting birds. But this week we are hosting some rare, southern flycatchers worth mentioning, especially since they are among a suite of southern birds trying to set up shop here this spring.
Acadian Flycatchers are not the sort of flashy species that would catch the attention of the average person. They are one of a group of terminally drab, hard to identify flycatchers known collectively by birders as “Empids”, a shortened version of the scientific name. But Acadians will grab your ear with their explosive “song”, if you could call it that, often represented as PEET-SA! It sounds like they are trying to get your attention.
Mostly birds of southern bottomland forest, they historically nested into Southern New England before deforestation pushed them back south. They currently are very sparse nesters in the state with most records around the Quabbin reservoir and forests of the Bristol County lowlands. They last nested on Cape Cod in 2007 when a nest was found in the Mashpee River Woodlands, with hints of possible nests other years, like last year at Santuit Pond in Mashpee.
They make an interesting nest, one with dangly bits that hang well below the nest cup, composed of things like old oak flowers and spider silk. Despite these decorative tendencies, the nest itself is often so flimsy that the eggs are visible through the bottom. After breeding they get out of town, using their relatively long wings to go as far as Ecuador and Colombia for the winter.
These Acadian Flycatchers are part of a wave of mostly southern birds apparently taking a shine to Cape Cod this spring, with others including a gorgeous Prothonotary Warbler at Santuit Pond in Mashpee and at least one Hooded Warbler at Bridge Creek Conservation Area in Barnstable. Both species are pretty good looking and pretty rare, meaning that birders have been coming around in big numbers to see them. Hooded Warbler has a charming little song that sounds like “very very pleased to meet you”, at least to me. White-eyed Vireo is another southern bird around in unusual numbers, singing in a few places, including my yard, in recent weeks. These birds join long time southerners that colonized certain spots on the Cape years ago, like the Chuck-will’s-widow, a relative of the Whip-poor-will, and Blue Grosbeaks now breeding in different parts of Falmouth.
June is often considered the doldrums by birders, as we’re between the end of songbird migration and the start of shorebird migration next month. But it gets a bad rap – it’s a great time to discover and document some of the less common breeding birds around the Cape and Islands. All you need is a little time, and intimate, detailed knowledge of the thousands of different vocalizations made by hundreds of species of birds! So get out to those local woodlands and wetlands and go get ‘em!