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Spotted Flycatcher { Birds of Europe}

Updated on October 4, 2015

Spotted Flycatcher . Muscicapa striata



The Spotted flycatcher Muscicapa striate belongs to the Passeriformes {perching birds} order of birds and the family Muscicapidae within that order. The genus name of Muscicapa derives from two Latin words musca =a fly + capere -to seize. The specific name of striata also derives from Latin -stria =a line.

In the UK they are placed on the Red list of conservation concern and has been since the 1996-2001 assessment. This means there have been declines in population/distribution of over 50% in the last forty years or so. As such there is an action plan for the species which is currently being implemented on the the species behalf and try to halt and eventually reverse this trend.

The current UK population is estimated to be around 33,000 territories in summer. it is classed as a migrant breeder and a passage visitor. In Ireland it is Amber listed {declines of between 25-50% over the last forty years or so},because of concerns over the European breeding populations. In Europe it is classed as of 3 concern ,most in Europe deleted. { Source BTO } The total European population is estimated at being between six and ten million pairs. In Summer.Populations vary from country to country there follows a few selected examples. The Austrian population is estimated between 20,000-50,000 Breeding Pairs {BP}, Belgium 4,500-15,000 BP. Croatia 25,000-50,000 BP. France 200,000-1 million BP. Germany,200,000-444,000 BP. Russia {the whole of} between 8-12 million pairs, Spain 640,000-690,000 BP. Sweden 500,000-1,200,000 BP.Ukraine 555,000-625,000. BP { Source Birdlife}.

The birds breed in Europe and west and central Africa and winter in Africa. They are birds of open woodland and gardens.

The Croatian name for the bird is Siva mucharica, the Gaelic name is Breacan-sgiobalt, the Irish name is Cuilire Liath and the Welsh name is Gwybedog mannog

Yellowish Flycatcher Empidinax flavescens

The New World Flycatchers are unrelated species. Image taken in Panama.
The New World Flycatchers are unrelated species. Image taken in Panama. | Source

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. Cyornis tickelliae

Taken in India.
Taken in India. | Source

What are Flycatchers?

The Old world Flycatchers are a large family -the Muscicapidae, mostly restricted to the Old World { Europe ,Africa and Asia}. they are insectivorous as their name suggests taking insects on the wing.

They are divided into two sub-families the Muscicapinae the typical Flycatchers, which is split into many genera,our subject belongs to the Muscicapa,of which there are twenty three other species,including the Pied Flycatcher**.

The other sub-family is Saxicolinae,which also includes many genera one of which is Saxicloa,the Bush Chats and Stonechats**

The birds of the family Tyrannidae also referred to as the Tyrant Flycatchers are not related to the Old World Flycatchers.

Here we review the Spotted Flycatcher and as usual we commence with a description of the species under review.

**This species has already been reviewed in this series.

Flycatcher and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source

Description of the Spotted Flycatcher.

The plumage of this bird is very plain ,sober and unpretentious,they are about five and a half inches long. The bill is dusky,broad,somewhat flat and wide at the base,a ridge runs along the upper part and the lower mandible is yellowish at the base. The iris is dark brown the eyes are bold.

The head is brown the crown spotted with darker brown,the neck and sides,streaked with brown. The nape and the back are plain grey brown with pale feather edges on the wing. The under parts are a silvery whitish with soft pale grey brown streaks on the breast. They have short black legs. The long ,plain,brown tail tends to be held in a downward position. The wings are relatively long and narrow.

The juveniles have a spotted crown and cream spots on a brown back and the breast has a distinctly mottled appearance. They have a very similar plumage to a young Robin. The adults are somewhat similar to the Garden warbler**,but generally lighter in colour and longer tails.

** This species has already been reviewed in this series

Courtesy of Clive Bramham . Standard You Tube License.

General and Historical information.

Here in the UK the Spotted Flycatcher is a relatively late arrival only reaching our shore in any significant numbers during May. The species is noted for it being solitary and less than striking appearance. Another evident characteristic is its habit of perching on the tip of a branch,the top of a stake or railing,where it keeps a watchful eye on any hapless flying insect that may pass its way.

When it is so perched, it gives the general appearance of it being uninterested and listless,then with a sudden dart,it is off after a fly or other morsel and the 'snap' of its bill informs that this little bird has been successful in procuring its victim. Once the insect is secured in its bill, it returns to its original perch ,or at least one that is close by to it after its short sorties.

In these more enlightened days it is realized that the Spotted Flycatcher is of great help to the gardener ,especially fruit growers,by taking all manner of harmful insects in great numbers.This has not always been the case and the bird suffered persecution from gardeners who thought that they did damage to their crop.

The note of the Spotted Flycatcher is a weak chirp.

Beautiful little bird

Originally posted to Flickr ,uploaded to Commons by Magnus Manske.
Originally posted to Flickr ,uploaded to Commons by Magnus Manske. | Source

Robin. According to records a Robin such as this one helped to feed the young captives.


Keeping wild birds was once a popular past time


Spotted Flycatcher in captivity

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity with a few licensed exceptions,it was a popular pastime. Bird-catchers made a good living by procuring birds by any means, usually with nets, they sold them to bird keepers and to the markets as food. the following few paragraphs relate to this time in our avian history.

During my research I came across this record which contained some curious circumstances. Young Flycatchers were taken from a nest and placed in a large cage,with some other birds of different species,among which was a Robin. The writer states,

" The young birds were fed regularly by one of their parents-the female,while her mate,who accompanied her constantly in flight,used to wait for her,outside the window,upon the roof of the house,or in neighbouring trees. Sometimes the little birds were on the top perch in the cage,and not always near enough to the wires of the cage to be within reach of the parent,when she appeared with food."

" The Robin which had for some time been an inhabitant of the cage,where he lived in perfect harmony with all its associates,and had from the first taken great interest in the little flycatchers,now perceiving that the nestlings could not reach the offered food,but sat with their wings fluttering,and their mouths open,anxious to obtain it,flew to the wires,received the insects from the mother bird,and put them into the open mouths of the nestlings. This was repeated every succeeding day,as often as his services was required"

Another Bird keeper, laid down these notes for posterity.

" A young Spotted Flycatcher was brought to me,it had flown against a lamp,was temporarily stunned and a lad picked it up without difficulty. I tried to keep it, but it refused to feed,as most birds do after they have left the nest,and although I forced it to eat it died the next day. Perhaps I lost nothing to the death of the bird,for the Flycatchers are not especially suited to cage or aviary life,are neither attractive in plumage or song,and are said to be delicate and difficult to keep in health."

The writer continued-" If reared from the nest they would doubtless eat the usual soft food, but I would expect them to follow the examples of the Swallows and Martins, eat to repletion and take very little exercise. They have been kept { in 1887,1895 and 1896,examples were exhibited at the annual Crystal Palace show in London}, but it may be questioned whether it is worth the trouble"

Courtesy of sandro bico. Standard You Tube license.

Nest with eggs


Chicks in nest


Breeding ,Nest and Eggs.

Nesting commences almost as soon as the birds arrive. It is probable that they have paired up prior to arrival. If this is not the case it occurs shortly after they arrive. The nest id usually built at the beginning of June and is composed of various materials,such as twigs, catkins and moss lined with feathers,hair or down and strengthened somewhat with cobwebs. They tend to return to the same location year after year if they have been left unmolested. The nest is often easy to locate as it seems there is no particular attempt by the birds to conceal it.

A favourite location for the nest of these birds is a tree growing against a wall, trees themselves,ledges of rocks,holes in walls, the exposed roots of a tree over a bank,or even a beam in an out building,which gave the bird one of its old country titles of -Beam bird. Although nests may be encountered later in the year it is probably because the birds lost the eggs in the first clutch and a replacement clutch was needed. The female seems to be the main builder of the nest while the male helps to gather the required materials.

The eggs are a dull white spotted with a pale orange coloured brown. Four to five are generally deposited and they are incubated by the female for a period of 13-15 days. They are fed a nutritious diet of insects, the parents bring two or three insects at a time, and are ready to leave the nest in a further 13-16 days.

When the young leave the nest they are tenaciously attended to by the parents . they often sit together in a row,upon some branch or fence,while the parents procure them flies and other invertebrates. Once they have become independent it is not long before they are ready to leave our shores and head back to Africa to spend the winter.

Juvenile bird



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, I agree with you that they are a pleasure to watch,their antics can be amusing, Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      This is a nice little bird. I enjoy both the flycatchers and the vireos when they come to the area for breeding purposes, as well as general observation.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika,thank you once again for your kind and encouraging comments,and also for your votes. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So cute! A very pretty and unique kind of bird. You shared an informative and a nicely presented hub on the Spotted Flycatcher. I have noticed many small birds but not up close to know if it was a Spotted Flycatcher. Interesting and useful. Voted up!


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