Field Guide to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees

Princeton University Press’s Field Guide to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees is definitely geared towards more serious birders. It includes the highly similar Empidonax flycatcher family as well as four pewees and Olive-Sided Flycatcher. The guide is split into two parts: How to Use the Guide and the Field Guide proper.

How to Use the Guide

The first section covers a lot of great info specific to these flycatchers but also a lot of general bird identification tools. Topics discussed include topography (the parts of a flycatcher), bill length, tail length, primary projection, wing bar contrast, eye rings, habitat preference, and more! It is a lot to take in, but displayed in a clean, easy to read format. The Field Mark Matrix puts it all together.

The Field Mark Matrix for Flycatchers

The Field Guide

Field Guide to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees uses color illustrations to depict the species covered. Illustrated by Andrew Birch, this format provides a “best case scenario” of what these birds will look like in the field. This works well for learning to differentiate the highly similar birds but is only one part of the identification puzzle.

Included in the guide are spectrograms, displaying visually the songs and calls of the various flycatchers. These vocalizations are also described in terms of syllables and mnemonic devices. The author even encourages recording (simply with your smart phone) any songs you hear to play back later for identification.

The guide includes detailed distribution maps, going so far as to break down generally when each species will arrive or pass by during migration. Like any distribution map, there are discrepancies and much of a birds arrival depends on day-to-day conditions. Each species preferred habitat is included to improve likeliness of a positive identification.

The most difficult, i.e. similar, species are given side-by-side comparisons to assist even more. Most notable for me are Willow and Alder Flycatchers. Lastly, Pine and Buff-Bellied Flycatchers (both Empidonax species) get treatment despite limited distribution in the U.S. (only the birding hotspot of southeastern Arizona).

How I’m Going to Use This Guide

This review was posted in the winter when there are no flycatchers around in northern Illinois. Usually, the first flycatcher I see in the early spring is an Eastern Phoebe (not in this field guide). But my plan to use this book is to focus on one or two species most commonly found in my area. These will probably be Acadian and Willow, two Empidonax species that are known to nest around here.

Willow Flycatcher and Alder Flycatcher

By limiting myself to these two, I hope to seek them out. Once I’m more comfortable with their calls and habits, then I’ll move on to the other species. In the past, I’ve overwhelmed myself trying to remember who says “fitz-brrew” or “freee-BREER-o”. This approach will hopefully simplify the process.

I still expect to be stuck with “flycatcher species” on my checklists, but the fun is in the search. And the Field Guide to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees is definitely going to help aide in that search.

We received a copy of Field Guide to North American Flycatchers: Empidonax and Pewees from the publisher, Princeton University Press to review.

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