Green-backed Flycatcher – nomenclature and song

on 17th February 2022

I saw this Green-backed Flycatcher (Ficedula elisae) today and would like to make some observations using work from:

  1. Nial Moores (Arranged and edited by Charlie Moores). Black-backed narcissina, Olive-backed owstoni and Green-backed elisae Narcissus Flycatchers: notes on their Identification and Status (with a special focus on South Korea), Birds Korea July 2005 (Available here:
  2. Lu Dong, Min Wei,Per Alström, et al. Taxonomy of the Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina complex: an integrative approach using morphological, bioacoustic and multilocus DNA data. Ibis (2015), 157, 312–325.

Post 1.

Ficedula elisae (Green-backed Flycatcher) is currently considered different from the Ficedula narcissina (Narcissus Flycatcher). There is still some difficult in field identification between some of the Ficedula elisae, narcissina, owstoniand zanthopygia. In addition Ficedula elisae 1st winter males can be confused with females. It is stated by Moores 2005 that for Ficedula elisaeadult male plumage is acquired in the Third Calendar-year/Second-summer, with immature-plumaged (female-type) birds often noted in song. As a result considerable confusion remains over criteria for separating males and females, especially in their Second Calendar-Year.” Moores 2005 also noted that “diffusely-patterned scalloping on the breast appears to be closely associated with age, suggesting that Ficedula elisae showing obvious scalloping/squamations are likely Second calendar-year females – thus, in the same way as males, acquiring a less than fully adult plumage in First-summer.” Lu Dong et al 2015 adds that “In contrast to all other taxa, first-summer male F. elisae resembled females (rarely with a few distinct male characters, such as some newly moulted blackish rectrices, a few yellow rump feathers or a short yellow supercilium). They showed distinct whitish tips to the retained juvenile greater coverts, in common with first-summer females, but unlike adult females. This was confirmed in the field, with many observations of singing birds in female type plumage.

Post 2.

The bird I saw today had the following features (Post 1-3):

  1. Appeared largely yellow below and greenish above and was rather heavier-billed, supporting the ID of Ficedula elisae.
  2. The presence of mottling below (diffusely-patterned scalloping on the breast) suggests it is a first winter bird.
  3. Absence of a yellow rump-band suggests female but note that males only develop a yellow rump at the complete moult of their second autumn (Wells, personal communication 2018). Having said that there could be a faint hint of some early yellow peeping out. I have only one blur image of the rump and it appears pale greenish-yellow.
  4. The absence of yellow in the lores suggests a female.
  5. The rufous wash to the uppertail (outside of the tail red brown) also support a female (Moores 2005).

Post 3.

Looking at it overall, I would like to suggest that this bird is a first winter female.

Any opinions valued.

I heard it make calls twice, which is what alerted me to it in the beginning. A short recording I mamnaged to document is locate dhere:

Sonogram and waveform in Post 4.

Post 4.

Amar-Singh HSS (Dato’ Dr) – Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia

Location: Fringe of Ipoh City, Perak, Malaysia

Habitat: Semi-urban environment

Date: 12th December 2018

Equipment: Nikon D500 SLR with Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD, handheld



If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

Leave a Reply

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


Overall visits (since 2005)

Live visitors
Visitors Today

Clustrmaps (since 2016)