Bird-voiced treefrog (Hyla avivoca)

Bird-voiced treefrog
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The bird-voiced treefrog is named for the male’s distinctive, high-pitched, bird-like call.
  • The bird-voiced treefrog inhabits forested swamps and wetlands and spends most of its time in the trees.
  • The bird-voiced treefrog uses its limbs to wipe a layer of mucous over its body, which helps to prevent it drying out.
  • The mottled, camouflaging colouration of the bird-voiced treefrog helps to protect it from predators.
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Bird-voiced treefrog fact file

Bird-voiced treefrog description

GenusHyla (1)

The bird-voiced treefrog (Hyla avivoca) is a relatively small, tree-dwelling amphibian which is named for its distinctive, bird-like call (3). Given by the male, this call consists of a series of high-pitched, whistled ‘whit, whit, whit’ notes, which are repeated several times (5) (6).

The bird-voiced treefrog has a slender body and relatively smooth skin (3) (6). Its toes end in expanded, adhesive pads (3) (5) (6), and the hind toes are webbed (3) (6). This species has large, protuberant eyes and a blunt snout (3). Female bird-voiced treefrogs are larger than the males (2) (3) (5).

The body of the bird-voiced treefrog varies in colour from green to grey or brown, with darker mottling that gives a lichen-like appearance (3) (5) (6). There is often a large, irregularly shaped dark blotch on the back, and the limbs are marked with dark bars (3) (4) (6). In green-coloured individuals, the green colouration is usually found only on the back, with the rest of the body being grey to brown (3).

The bird-voiced treefrog has a conspicuous greenish-white spot below each eye (3) (4) (5) (6), and the underside of its body is dull whitish, with small dark spots on the throat (3). The concealed parts of the thighs and sides are green to greenish-yellow (3) (5) (6), which helps to distinguish the bird-voiced treefrog from other closely related treefrogs, in which the thighs are yellow-orange (5) (6).

The tadpole of the bird-voiced treefrog has a distinctive appearance, being mostly black with several copper-coloured markings along the tail (3) (5) (6). The tail is long and has a pointed tip, and the tail fin is greyish with black mottling (3) (6).

Two subspecies of bird-voiced treefrog have been described, the western bird-voiced treefrog (Hyla avivoca avivoca) and the eastern bird-voiced treefrog (Hyla avivoca ogechiensis) (5) (7). However, the validity of these two subspecies has sometimes been questioned (5).

Also known as
bird-voiced tree frog.
Hyla avivoca ogechiensis, Hyla phaeocrypta ogechiensis, Hyla versicolor phaeocrypta.
Male snout-vent length: 2.8 - 4.3 cm (2) (3)
Female snout-vent length: 3.2 - 5.3 cm (2) (4)
Tadpole length: up to 3.5 cm (3) (5)

Bird-voiced treefrog biology

Although the bird-voiced treefrog is often found high in the trees, it can also sometimes be seen in lower vegetation, tree stumps, tree crevices, or occasionally on the ground (2) (3) (6). This species uses its limbs to wipe a layer of mucous over its head and body, which helps to prevent water loss when the frog is on high, exposed perches (3).

The bird-voiced treefrog is usually active at night (5) (6). Its diet consists of tree-dwelling invertebrates such as ants, beetles and their larvae, moths, caterpillars, leafhoppers and some spiders (3) (5) (6) (8), and it is likely to hunt by perching on vegetation and ambushing passing prey (6).

Around a month before the breeding season begins, male bird-voiced treefrogs start calling from the trees or from other woody vegetation over water (2) (3) (5) (6). This chorusing usually starts around dusk (2) (3) (6), but also sometimes takes place during the day (6). The male bird-voiced treefrog is territorial and will confront any other males that come too near to its perch. When it detects an intruder, the male gives a short, trilling chirp to warn it off, and if the intruder does not leave a fight may ensue (3).

The breeding season of the bird-voiced treefrog usually begins around March or April in the south of the species’ range and around May in the north (2) (3) (5), and it can last until September (3) (5). Mating begins with a female bird-voiced treefrog approaching a calling male and touching him. The male then grasps the female and the pair descends from the tree to the water below, with the female carrying the male. At the water’s surface, the female begins laying her eggs (2) (3) (6).

The female bird-voiced treefrog typically produces around 400 to 800 eggs per clutch (2) (6), with each clutch being laid in small clumps of up to 15 eggs each (3) (5). The eggs sink to the bottom or stick to vegetation in the water (2) (3) (5) (6). It is likely that the females of this species lay more than one clutch of eggs during the breeding season (2) (3). The bird-voiced treefrog’s eggs hatch after just 40 hours and the tadpoles take about a month to metamorphose into adults (2) (3) (5) (6). Newly metamorphosed bird-voiced treefrogs measure just over a centimetre in length (3) (5).

The bird-voiced treefrog is likely to reach maturity after one or two years (5), and females of this species have been known to live for up to four years (2). Potential predators of the adult bird-voiced treefrog may include birds, small mammals and snakes, but this amphibian’s camouflaging colouration, together with its habit of remaining hidden high in the trees, is likely to help protect it against predation (5) (6).


Bird-voiced treefrog range

The bird-voiced treefrog is found in the United States, where it occurs from southern Illinois and western Kentucky south to the Florida Panhandle, east to Georgia and south-western South Carolina, and west to Louisiana and the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Isolated populations also occur to the west of the Mississippi River, in parts of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas (1) (2) (3) (6).


Bird-voiced treefrog habitat

The bird-voiced treefrog is an arboreal species that inhabits wooded swamps and forested wetlands, usually near rivers or streams. It is commonly found in habitats containing trees such as cypress, tupelo gum and buttonbush (1) (2) (3) (5) (6).


Bird-voiced treefrog status

The bird-voiced treefrog is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Bird-voiced treefrog threats

The bird-voiced treefrog is a widespread and fairly common species, and its population is not known to be undergoing a decline (1). However, this species’ dependence on swampy, forested habitats means that it could potentially be put under threat by any alterations to this habitat, including clearance or drainage (1) (6) (9). The bird-voiced treefrog is also not thought to be able to tolerate the flooding of its habitat caused by the building of impoundments, such as dams (1).

In Illinois, the bird-voiced treefrog is listed as ‘Threatened’ (2) (5) (6) (9) as it is confined to a few isolated locations and its remaining habitat is rapidly disappearing (2) (6) (9). This species is also listed as ‘Threatened’ in Oklahoma and is a 'Species of Special Concern' in Kentucky and South Carolina (5).

Disturbances to its habitat may not always have a negative effect on the bird-voiced treefrog. For example, this species’ population increased significantly in Louisiana after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina (3).


Bird-voiced treefrog conservation

The bird-voiced treefrog is protected in the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina (3), and it occurs in a number of protected areas across its range (1). No other conservation measures are currently known to be targeted at this small frog, but protection of riverside habitats has been recommended (3). In Illinois, appropriate management of the bird-voiced treefrog’s remaining habitat would help to preserve the healthy forests on which this species depends (9).


Find out more

Find out more about the bird-voiced treefrog and other amphibians:

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An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
A composite organism made up of a fungus in a co-operative partnership with an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Characteristically forms a crustlike or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.


  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Lannoo, M. (Ed.) (2005) Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
  3. Dodd Jr, C.K. (2013) Frogs of the United States and Canada. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  4. AmphibiaWeb (August, 2013)
  5. Jensen, J.B., Camp, C.D., Gibbons, W. and Elliott, M.J. (Eds.) (2008) Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.
  6. Dorcas, M. and Gibbons, W. (2008) Frogs and Toads of the Southeast. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia.
  7. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (August, 2013)
  8. Jamieson, D.H., Trauth, S.E. and McAllister, C.T. (1993) Food habits of male bird-voiced treefrogs, Hyla avivoca (Anura: Hylidae), in Arkansas. The Texas Journal of Science, 45(1): 45-49.
  9. Redmer, M., Brown, L.E. and Brandon, R.A. (1999) Natural history of the bird-voiced treefrog (Hyla avivoca) and green treefrog (Hyla cinerea) in southern Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin, 36(2): 37-66.

Image credit

Bird-voiced treefrog  
Bird-voiced treefrog

© Todd Pierson

Todd Pierson


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