Friday, 20 March 2015

B.O.T.D. Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)

As a bird watcher's identification skills grow, there are formidable challenges to be confronted and conquered. Learning the sparrows requires patience; mastering the profusion of fall warblers is an anguishing rite of passage; and sorting out small sandpipers is an enduring trial. But for pure consternation, all other groups pale next to the scientific genus Empidonax. These small, enigmatic, bray-green flycatchers can bring tears of frustration  to the most skilled birder's eyes. Imagine the puzzlement of early ornithologists whose task it was to determine where the fine lines are that separate species. One lingering reminder of that early confusion is the misnamed Acadian flycatcher, a southern member of the clan.

Initially, ornithologists recognized just one small flycatcher with wing bars and an eye-ring - from a bird collected in Acadia, as Nova Scotia was once called. The specimen was dubbed Empidonax acadicus, and for years the subtle differences between it and other birds within its genus went unnoticed. Over time, it was realized that several different species do exist, distinguished by songs, nesting practises, and habitats, rather than by appearance. But it was a southern flycatcher, which ranges no closer to Nova Scotia than Connecticut, that inherited the name of the original bird from far-off Acadia. Its scientific name was changed to Empdonax virescens, but the common name, Acadian flycatcher, stubbornly persists to this day.

Reader's Digest: Book of North American Birds