Taunted by an empid.

So, you’re feeling confident in your bird ID? Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs, first-winter Blackpoll/Bay-breasted Warbler, worn-plumage Sparrows no challenge anymore? well, my young Padawan, do I have a bird family for you.


That’s birder shorthand for the baffling family of Empidonax flycatchers. Around here we have Alder, Willow, Least and Yellow-bellied, and every bloody one of them is “Best identified by call.”

But what do you do when they don’t call?

That’s the puzzle we faced today at Mosher Marsh, a wetland preserve near Amsterdam, NY. This empid flew to the top of a shrub and posed for us.

“Left profile!”


“Or is my right profile better?”


“How about a rear view? That help?”


(He offered us full-frontal, too, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch a shot.)

We stood on the boardwalk and stared at him. A Willow Flycatcher called from the right. “FRRRITZ-bew!” An Alder Flycatcher replied from the right. “FREEbeer!”


And our International Bird of Mystery sat in the middle, saying nothing.

At length we gave up the struggle, entering on our trip list the admission of defeat: Empid Sp? An air of mockery followed us in retreat.



Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, scenery, What am dat bird? | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Taunted by an empid.

  1. Well played. Had me chuckling, as I have yet to identify one of these befuddling birds. I’m just learning birds by call. Maybe these should be at the top of the list!!

  2. Upstate Ellen

    “International Bird of Mystery”! Love it!! Happy to hear the field trip went well in my absence.

  3. While spring cleaning a few weeks ago, I came across a packet of USPS stamps featuring the Kestrel. I immediately thought of you and your blog. I would be happy to snail-mail them to you. Pls send me an email with an addy to use and I’ll send them along.

    • How kind of you! I actually have several sheets of those and stick them onto special mailings, like an old-fashioned wax seal.

      • That’s great and very appropriate! How cool that the USPS did a stamp just for you. 🙂

  4. It is sometimes the better part of valor to follow the first rule of Empidonax sighting: “Look – the – other – way.” 🙂

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