Ashy Flycatcher Fraseria caerulescens

Barry Taylor, Peter F. D. Boesman, and Nárgila Moura
Version: 1.1 — Published June 25, 2020

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Ashy Flycatcher is a fairly common bird with a large range, yet knowledge about its voice is quite limited. This species has apparently a large repertoire including different song types and a large array of calls.


Vocal Development

No information. Erard (7) describes a high-pitched begging call of a fully-grown juvenile being fed by its parents. Elsewhere it is also described as a shrill, short, rattling squeak (8).

Vocal Array

Dawn song. A bright, simple phrase of whistled notes repeated incessantly at constant pace. The phrase with a duration of ca. 1 s consists of some 5‒7 notes, typically starting with a high-pitched note then going down in pitch and up again towards the end. Notes are loud clear whistles, but can also include a trilled or burry note. Phrases are separated by a pause of ca. 1.5 s. Consecutive phrases usually have a different composition of notes, most phrases reappearing every 3‒5 phrases.

Day-time song. A stuttered descending series of some 3‒8 short staccato notes, given at a pace of 3‒6 notes/s. Series may end with a few longer notes or a short warble or chatter.

Warbled song. A canary-like rapid warble of jumbled notes, also including some more scratchy notes. Continuous phrases may have a duration of up to 20 s. Possibly includes mimicry of other species.

Contact call. Single very short notes such as "peep" or "chirp", a more nasal note, and a high-pitched wheeze. There seems to be quite some variation, and it is not clear if these all have a different meaning. Sound recordings of such calls are few, and do not allow to establish which ones are uttered most frequently

Alarm call. A piercing slightly descending hiss, starting at ca. 9 kHz down to ca. 7 kHz. Duration 0.25‒0.42 s (7).

Distress call. A shrill buzzing high-pitched note at stable pitch of ca. 8 kHz, with a duration of 0.25‒0.33 s (the buzzing vibration quantified as a modulation oscillating at ca. 170 Hz between maximum frequency of ca. 8.3 kHz and minimum frequency of ca. 7.9 kHz)(7).

Geographic Variation

None described. Available sound recordings suggest little variation over its large range, but recordings from West Africa are very few.


Little information. In southern Africa, day-time song can be heard in most months, while dawn song possibly restricted to breeding season.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

Dawn song is exclusively heard at dawn, typically starting in complete darkness and continuing for at least 30 minutes from a fixed perch. Once it gets light, this vocalization is stopped and the bird switches to day-time song (Zambia, PFB). A simpler variant of the Dawn song has however also been heard in late afternoon.

Places of Vocalizing

Dawn song is delivered in the higher canopy levels, from a fixed perch. Other vocalizations are uttered during day-time activity at all levels, mostly between 5‒15m.

Gender Differences

In Gabon, alarm call uttered by male was longer in duration than in female, and several of the contact calls were assigned to either male or female bird (7). Song for territorial defense and courtship has been observed for the male bird only (8).

Social Content and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

Dawn song is exclusively given in twilight, and thus most likely has a territorial function, but functional difference with day-time song and warbled song not fully resolved. In Gabon, 'alarm call' was uttered by both male and female when a Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk (Accipiter castanilius) approached at ca. 60 m. This vocalization is very similar to alarm call of many Turdus thrushes and other species, such as African Dusky Flycatcher (Muscicapa adusta), and is clearly an interspecific alarm call. 'Distress call' was noted several times during handling mist-netted birds, and can be linked to panic or distress.

Nonvocal Sounds

Erard (7) mentions vigorous snapping of wings and bill of an adult male when an observer approached its offspring.

Recommended Citation

Taylor, B., P. F. D. Boesman, and N. Moura (2020). Ashy Flycatcher (Fraseria caerulescens), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.ashfly1.01.1