BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND AND EASTERN NEW YORK - HOFFMANN

Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page

FLYCATCHERS: FAMILY TYRANNIDÆ

Nine Flycatchers occur as summer residents in some parts of New York and New England. Four or five are commonly distributed throughout the whole region; these are the Phæbe, the Kingbird, the Least Flycatcher, and the Wood Pewee, all of which are fairly common, and the Crested Flycatcher, which is locally common, but in many places rare or absent. In the lower Hudson Valley, the Green-crested Flycatcher occurs as a summer resident; in northern New York and New England, the Alder and the Olive-sided Flycatchers as fairly common summer residents. The Yellowbellied Flycatcher is a summer resident of high mountains, and of the damp forests of northern New York and New England. All the Flycatchers sit more or less on exposed perches, in an upright position, with the tail held nearly straight down. From this station they fly out after passing insects, and then return to the same perch or another. Many of them during the breeding season are of a rather overbearing disposition, constantly wrangling with other birds that come near their nesting haunts.

LEAST FLYCATCHER; CHEBEC. Empidonax minimus
5.41 in.

Ad.— Upper parts olive-green, tinged with brownish; wingbars ash-white; under parts whitish, with a slight tinge of yellow on the belly.

Nest, a neat gray cup, often in a crotch from twenty to thirty feet up. Eggs, white.

The Chebec, is very common throughout New York and New England, except in the less cultivated districts of northern New England and New York, where it is chiefly confined to the villages and the neighborhood of tilled fields, its place being taken in the wilder regions by the Alder Flycatcher. It arrives late in April, and in eastern Massachusetts is rarely seen after the end of August. It breeds in apple orchards, edges of woodland, in fact, wherever trees are separated by slight open spaces in which it can hunt. It sits on some fairly exposed perch, in the manner characteristic of flycatchers, and makes constant sallies into the air, down over the grass, or even against the trunks of trees.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

The male in spring and early summer is a constant singer, snapping out the syllables se-bic', with a violent jerk of his head and a quiver of the tail. Both sexes, after alighting, often utter a little gurgling note, and quiver wings and tail. The call-note is whit. Just before dusk the male often flies up from some tree near the nest, and delivers a flight-song, in which the call-note, whit, and the ordinary song, se-bic', are repeated many times. (See also following species.)

ALDER FLYCATCHER. Empidonax traillii alnorum
6.09 in.

Ad.— Upper parts dark olive-green, often with a tinge of brown; under parts white, washed with yellowish on the belly; wing-bars brownish-gray.

Nest, in crotch of small bush near the ground, made of coarser material than the Chebec's. Eggs, spotted.

The Alder Flycatcher has been found breeding in northern New Jersey, in northwestern Connecticut, and in eastern Massachusetts, but outside the Canadian Zone it occurs chiefly as a regular but rare migrant late in May or very early in June. From the edge of the Canadian area northward it is a rather common summer resident, frequenting alder thickets along streams and swampy places, as well as wet clearings and ill-drained hillsides.

Its song is like the syllables qui-dee', ending with a marked ee instead of the sharp ic of the Chebec. The singer either mounts an exposed perch, where he may be seen jerking his head violently, or as often sings concealed in the leafy twigs. Where the birds are common, the song is heard as late as the first week in August, but it is not regular after the middle of July. The call-note is a sharp pip.

Its appearance in the field is so like the Least Flycatcher that only a very well-trained eye can distinguish the two species. The notes, however, of the two are very unlike; the marked difference in habitat, moreover, should make it comparatively easy to separate the two species in the breeding season.



ACADIAN FLYCATCHER; GREEN-CRESTED FLYCATCHER. Empidonax virescens
5.75 in.

Ad.— Upper parts dark gray; back tinged in strong light with greenish; wing-bars buff or buffy-white; under parts white, tinged with sulphur-yellow, shaded on the breast with grayish or greenish.

Nest, on a limb, from four to twenty feet up, shallow, pensile, of rootlets, grass, and plant stems, loosely put together. Eggs, creamy-wbite, spotted with brown.

The Green-crested Flycatcher is a locally common summer resident in the lower Hudson Valley as far north as Sing Sing, and in New Jersey as far north as Plainfield, but occurs in New England only as an accidental visitor. It arrives in May, and generally leaves in August. It frequents woodland and orchards, especially in the neighborhood of small streams. The sharp call-note, queep, and the song, which Bendire writes wick-up' and Chapman pee-eyuk', are characteristic; these notes, the larger size, and the buffy wing-bars distinguish the Green-crested from the Least Flycatcher.

YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER. Empidonax flaviventris
5.63 in.

Ad.— Dark olive-green above; wing-bars whitish; entire under parts yellowish, brightest on the belly, shaded with olive on throat, breast, and sides.

Nest, sunk in mossy bank, or among the earth-laden roots of a fallen tree (Brewster). Eggs, white, marked with reddishbrown, chiefly at the larger end.

The Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a rare migrant in eastern New England, and, like the Alder Flycatcher, appears very late in May or early in June, and again in August and early September. In western New England and in the Hudson Valley it is not rare, but it is often silent and of a retiring disposition, frequenting low woods and swampy places. On the higher Catskills and the mountains of northern New England and in the great spruce forests of Maine, where the ground is deep with a feathery moss (Hypnum), the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher is a fairly common resident. Here, too, it is shy and retiring, but its notes differ from those of the other small Flycatchers, and assist in its identification. Its call-note is like the syllables ti-pee-a, and resembles closely a note of the Wood Pewee; its absurd little song, like the syllables pe-wick, is uttered almost as a monosyllable.

Its great similarity in appearance to the other little flycatchers, the Least and the Alder, should make a student very careful in identifying it; the distinctly yellowish tinge over the entire under parts distinguishes it.

[EASTERN] WOOD PEWEE. Contopus virens
6.53 in.

Ad.— Upper parts dark brownish-gray; two white wing-bars; under parts whitish, the sides washed with dark gray.

Nest, flattish, saddled on a limb, twenty to forty feet up, exquisitely decorated with a green lichen. Eggs, white, with a ring of dark markings about the larger end.



The Wood Pewee is a rather common summer resident of New York and New England. It arrives in May, and leaves toward the end of September. It is a characteristic bird of open woodland groves or the tall shade-trees of village streets and plantations. It sits on the ends of dead limbs, usually in the shade of the upper branches, and darts out at passing insects, returning, after its sally, to the same perch or to a neighboring limb. The ordinary drawled peea-wee pee-a is to be distinguished, on the one hand, from the pure phee-bee of the Chickadee and the rather hoarse phee'-wă of the Phæbe. Toward the middle of August the full song is rarely heard, and the common note is a shorter pee'-a, which must not be confused in northern New England with the call-note of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The bird utters beside a low chit, and about the nest an excited chitter.

The long-drawn song, when given, distinguishes the Wood Pewee from any of the other Flycatchers, but when the bird is silent it may be confused either with the Phæbe or with the Chebec. It may be distinguished from the former by its smaller size and by its well-marked wing-bars; moreover, it never flirts its tail after the manner of the Phoebe. It is considerably larger than the Chebec, and, when it faces an observer, the middle of its breast shows a light line şeparating the darker sides.

OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER. Nuttallornis borealis [Contopus cooperi]
7.39 in.

Ad.— Upper parts dark olive-gray and brown; under parts dark brownish on the sides, with a whitish stripe down the middle; no wing-bars, except in young birds; two white cottony tufts on the flank, which show in flight.

Nest, placed on a limb of an evergreen, twenty or thirty feet up. Eggs, white, with dark spots.

The Olive-sided Flycatcher breeds here and there in the hill country of Berkshire and Worcester counties in Massachusetts, not uncommonly in portions of Cape Cod, and regularly in the Canadian Zone. It is a rare migrant through eastern New England, in late May and early June; in western New England and the Hudson Valley it is less rare.

On the higher Catskills and the Adirondacks, and in northern New England, wherever the woodsman or a forest fire has left tall dead trees, the wild call of this bird may be heard. The birds fly from the tops of the tall stubs, sometimes almost straight up, or circle about, and light again on another perch. The song is loud, and resembles the syllables pi-pee', or pip, pi-pee'. The call heard constantly, even in August, when the song is infrequent, is a loud pip, pip-pip.

[EASTERN] PHOEBE; BRIDGE PEWEE. Sayornis phoebe
6.99 in.

Ad.— Upper parts grayish-brown; head dark brown; no conspicuous wing-bars; throat and breast grayish; belly pale yellowish; sides dark. Im.— Wing-bars more distinct, and the under parts yellower.

Nest, composed largely of moss, placed on a beam or rafter in a shed or under a bridge, and in less settled regions on a ledge of rock. Eggs, white.

The Phoebe is a common summer resident throughout New York and New England. It arrives late in March or early in April, and lingers into October. It is common about farm-buildings, sitting often on the ridgepole, but it also shows a marked fondness for the neighborhood of water.

The name Phæbe suggests the song, pheel-wi or phee'. wi-wi, hoarser than the pure whistle of the Chickadee, and with much more snap than the drawling note of the Wood Pewee. The Phæbe has also a chip, and about its nest a curious chattering cry. It raises two broods in the northern states, and the song is therefore heard well into July; after the moult in late summer the song is often heard again. In early spring the Phæbe occasionally utters a flight-song, beginning with whits and running into phobes rapidly repeated.

The sideways sweep of the tail is a characteristic action by which the bird may always be identified; in the old birds the absence of wing-bars also serves to distinguish it from the Wood Pewee. Young birds have dull wing-bars, but they cannot refrain long from making a suggestive movement of the loose-hung tail.


[GREAT] CRESTED FLYCATCHER. Myiarchus crinitus
9.01 in.

Ad.— Head dark brown above; back olive-brown; tail in flight nearly as reddish as a Brown Thrasher's; wing-bars brownishwhite; throat and breast ashy; belly sulphur-yellow.

Nest, in holes in trees. Eggs, white, with dark streaks.

The Crested Flycatcher is a summer resident throughout New York and New England, but is absent from the forest region of northern New England and New York, except along the great water-courses. It is much commoner in Connecticut than in Massachusetts, where it is absent from many localities. It arrives early in May, and remains till September, but, like most of the flycatchers, is rather silent in August. It frequents orchards and woodland, breeding in holes in trees, generally using a piece of cast snake-skin in the material of the nest.

It has a very strong, harsh voice, and soon makes its presence known by its characteristic calls; one of these is a hoarse, long-drawn wheep; another is a lower whip whip whip, and a third a guttural, rattling cry. It frequents the tops of tall trees, and seems to get much of its food without the sallies into the air characteristic of the rest of the family. The crest is not nearly so prominent as in the Jay or Cedar the loose feathers on the head are partially erected. The loud, harsh notes first call attention to the bird, and the peculiar coloring of the under parts - ashy, yellow, and reddish-brown — should distinguish it when seen from below.

KINGBIRD. Tyrannus tyrannus
8.51 in.

Ad.— Top of head blackish, with a concealed crest of orangered; back gray; wings brown; tail black, tipped with white; under parts white, washed with grayish across the breast. Im.— Tip of tail and breast tinged with pale brownish-buff.

Nest, rather bulky, either in trees from ten to thirty feet up, or in bushes near water. Eggs, white, spotted with reddish-brown.

The Kingbird is a common summer resident throughout New York and New England, except in heavily forested regions. It arrives early in May, and is rarely seen after the first of September. It occurs wherever there are trees surrounded by open country, either in orchards or open farming land, or along streams. From the top of a tree, from a mullein stalk, or a telegraph wire, it watches the air round about, and makes sallies after passing insects. As it returns to its perch, it spreads its broad fan-shaped tail, showing the white tips of the black feathers.

The Kingbird is notorious for its habit of pursuing crows and hawks, darting at them from above with vicious jabs, often following them for a long distance, and returning at last with a shrill kip-per, kip-per. Its mating performance consists in flying upward, and then tumbling suddenly in the air, repeating the manæuvre again and again, all the time uttering its shrill cry. During the nesting season, the male may often be seen on a conspicuous perch near the nest, and when the young are being fed, one parent flies out to meet the one that is bringing food, and welcomes it noisily.

The flight of the Kingbird is steady and at about the same level. The orange-red crest-feathers are generally concealed by their blackish tips, but in the mating season, or under the influence of anger, they flare out. The black tail, broadly tipped with white, and the white under parts make the Kingbird an easy bird to identify, even from a car window.



[SAY'S PHOEBE]. Sayornis saya
6.7 in.

Vagrant on Long Island during several weeks in the Fall of 2021.


Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page