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 Spotted Flycatcher - Fact File
Spotted Flycatcher
Muscicapa striata
Widespread but declining summer visitor
Woodland, parks and gardens.

Rather elegant slim upright profile. Mouse-brown upperparts and pale, lightly streaked below. Sexes similar. Makes dashes after flying insects, often returning to the same perch.

14 cm (5.5")



Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted flycatchers are fairly common summer visitors to the larger gardens of East Anglia where buildings, trees and lawns provide their most attractive habitats.

These little grey-brown birds often come back year after year to nest in the same niche — a hole in the wall, a shaded ledge, or a fork of ivy, and in some cases the same nest is repaired and re-used again and again.

They seldom arrive until the second week in May and once home they lose no time in rearing a family. The first brood has usually flown before the end of June and in warm summers a second brood has been produced by early August.

The parents have various perches from which they swoop in pursuit of flying insects, including not only small flies, but quite plump moths, butterflies and even dragonflies on occasion.

They can be quite a menace to butterflies visiting the flowers on buddleia bushes and are in no way deterred by the so-called 'warning' colours of eye-marked peacocks and flashing red admirals.

The topic of spotted flycatchers always results in an abundance of mail from readers. Although not colourful, these very attractive summer migrants from Africa south of the Sahara are quite tolerant of disturbance. Honoured are those correspondents whose flycatchers have accepted nest-sites on their homes, especially where partly overgrown in climbing plants.

Provided there is space for catching fly insects, spotted flycatchers readily adapt to parks, cemeteries, gardens and orchards. Flying insects are the main diet although berries are taken, especially in the autumn. During flycatching sessions the birds may hover in front of a bush or climb to a height of more than 60ft.

At the time of chick rearing when parents are extra busy, several small prey may be caught successively and retained in the bill. In rainy periods, when few insects are flying, the birds switch to ground feeding. They are however less successful in catching prey there and tend to suffer in prolonged bad weather.

Spotted flycatchers have been observed feeding after dark on insects attracted to street lamps and to lighted windows. After being out of the nest a mere eight days, the young flycatchers' insect capture rate may increase to 70 per cent.

Newly-fledged young usually roost together on a branch. In one study a first brood lingered in the vicinity of the nest until the second brood fledged. Individual spotted flycatchers may become bold in defending nests, even pursuing birds as large as jays. One nesting pair regularly subjected lesser spotted woodpeckers rearing young at a nest in the same tree to persistent and vigorous dive-attacks.

Spotted flycatchers are long-distance migrants. The first departures heading for Africa leave our shores by the end of this month although the majority remain until August. Initially the tiny travellers head south-west through western France and Portugal before crossing the Mediterranean and making for the West Africa and then Zaire.

Remarkably, five spotted flycatchers have been recovered in eastern South Africa, four from Finland and one from Wales

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.