Collared Flycatcher : One bird, a thousand sounds

Collared Flycatcher : One bird, a thousand sounds

Two weeks ago, we came across a Collared Flycatcher’s (Ficedula albicollis) nest in Zommange, Lorraine, France. There’s a small population established in these tall old forests, where the species reaches its Westernmost breeding range. Collared Flycatcher remains a rare bird in France, both during migration and in the breeding season, so that birders from Western Europe are not necessarily familiar with its vocalizations.


The female Collared Flycatcher and its nest ©Bertille Mohring

Watching Collared Flycatchers on their nest was a good opportunity to explore this notion of “vocal repertoire” that we often tend to forget when we focus on the most typical calls for identification. I’ve already written an introduction on the different types of sounds produced by birds HERE, but here is a concrete example for one given species, and one given individual (or pair).

Just like their cousins Ficedula flycatchers, i.e European Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) in all Europe and Semicollared Flycatchers (Ficedula semitorquata) in South-Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Collared Flycatchers have an outstanding vocal repertoire, including a very creative song and many types of calls. Let’s have a look at this.


1.Classical contact call/ alarm call…

…and a note on sound identification of Ficedula flycatchers (European Pied, Collared and Semicollared – hypoleuca, albicollis and semitorquata)

The first sound that we heard was the classical contact call, the one that drew our attention to the bird  “There’s a collared flycatcher calling, it might be calling at us because we are to its nest”

This call reminds a bit of Siberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis) to my ears. It’s a monotonous, diagnostic call, very different from the chipping calls of other Ficedula flyacthers (and other birds generally speaking). This call is the most frequently produced vocalization produced during migration. So it can be very helpful to identify females or young males, whose identification can be tricky, not to say painful ! Just check this article from Birding frontiers !


The contact calls from Pied and Semi-collared flycatcher are RADICALLY different.

The first one makes a metallic resonating chipping note, sometimes also a sylvia-like “chewp”, but never a monotonous note like Collared Flycatcher

Semicollared Flycatcher produces a rather nasal  incisive “tueee” note,somewhere between the flight call from Hawfinch and Eastern Towhee. Once again it has nothing to do with the monotonous call from Collared Flycatcher


2. Alarm call : variants !

One thing that was was intersting to notice was that the pitch, the rythm and the shape of the elements in alarm call seem to vary depending on the mood of the bird.

Here, a bit more irritated bird, as a Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) comes nearby :

Notice how the shape of the elements has changed, showing now a more modulated call,with legs that go deeper into low frequencies.

Now an emphasized alarm call with an accelerated pace as the Great Spotted Woodpecker gets interested by the Flycatcher’s cavity. You can hear the wing flapping of the male Collared Flycatcher attacking the Woodpecker.


3. Excitation calls

As the birds get excited they can produce high pitched call that remind the calls of many Tits species, usually produced at a very high pace. European Crested Tit (Lophophanes cristatus) is particularly famous for these calls. It would probably be impossible to id a bird based on such calls…

Here the male chasing the Woodpecker :

And the male getting really upset as the Woodpecker almost enters its hole :


4.Interaction calls

Similar isolated calls are also produced as communications signals between individuals. They are in the upper range of the highest frequencies reached in European passerines, with some calls almost around 10kHz

Male :

and Female :


5. Song

The song of the collared flycatcher is a succession of whistles, reminding the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) . Once again it’s very different from European Pied Flycatcher and Semicollared Flycatcher

This song is very creative so that there’s a lot of variation between two phrases

The song can be reduced to very short elements, sometimes even isolated single notes


6. Song variants : Mimicry, imitations

Just as if the variations in length , rythm and modulation weren’t enough, Ficedula flycatchers are capable of astonishing imitations. Check this recording of the male imitating Eurasian Reed warbler and Blackcap :

And here, the same male starting with the normal song and then making amazing imitations of Blackcap’s song (Sylvia atricapilla) and Great Tit (Parus major)


7. Bill snapping

All flycatchers frequently snap their bills, like here at 4 and 14 seconds.

Here is perhaps a more spectacular example with a Pied Flycatcher :


8.Wing flapping

It’s surprising to notice how loud the noise produced by the wings of such a small passerine can sound in a dense forest. Just check this, taken with a normal shotgun microphone at a distance of about 30 meters :

9. Agonistic calls

One final type of call is known as the “agonistic call”. We often hear it as a bird get caught on nets (for a banding program). It’s a primitive vocalization in birds, that sounds very similar for almost all passerines. Hear is an example of a Pied Flycatcher being banded





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *