The Spotted Flycatcher is a rather plain bird, more distinctive in its behaviours than it looks. These marvellous migrants remain widespread in the UK, although nowhere near as common as they once were.
Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher with full beak of food
Spotted Flycatcher with young
Family:Old World flycatchers and chats
23cm to 25cm
14g to 25g
The Spotted Flycatcher is easy to identify despite its rather nondescript plumage.
The Spotted Flycatcher is a small bird with uniform grey-brown upper parts and pale, lightly marked underparts. They have a large head, a straight, slender bill and large dark eyes. Their flight feathers have pale edges, creating a somewhat scaled appearance at close range, and their underparts from chin to tail are off-white with faint brown streaking. Sexes are alike.
Juveniles are more spotted than their parents. The upper back is conspicuously marked in large pale spots, and the head, wings, and breast are also more patterned than adults.
Spotted Flycatchers are most easily confused with the female Pied Flycatcher, although that species has a prominent white marking on each wing.
Spotted Flycatcher perching on a branch
Spotted Flycatchers are small birds, very similar in size to the Great Tit.
Adult Spotted Flycatchers have a body length of 13.5 - 14.5 centimetres.
They weigh 14 to 19 grams but may fatten up to 25 grams before migration.
Adult wingspan is 23 to 25 centimetres.
Spotted Flycatcher in its natural habitat
The Spotted Flycatcher’s call is a familiar but unremarkable sound.
The Spotted Flycatcher’s typical call is a very thin and high-pitched ‘tseeep’, and their song is a collection of shorter high-pitched notes.
Spotted Flycatcher singing
Watching the Spotted Flycatcher feed is a fascinating birdwatching experience. These aerial hunters may even feed into the night, taking small insects attracted to artificial light.
True to their name, Spotted Flycatchers feed predominantly on flies and other flying insects. Bees, wasps, damselflies, flying ants, and moths are all on the menu, although they will also eat crawling insects and invertebrates in poor weather. Fruits and berries are a minor component of their diet.
Spotted Flycatcher chicks eat insects provided by both their parents. They fledge after about two weeks in the nest, but their parents will continue to feed them for a further month or so.
Spotted Flycatcher feeding on flying insects
The Spotted Flycatcher has a wide range, but its hunting technique limits it to specific habitats. Continue reading to learn more about where these birds live.
Spotted Flycatchers prefer open woodland habitats where they can perch in trees and fly out into clearings to catch their prey. They do well in human-altered environments with similar vegetation structure and are equally at home in orchards, parks, and gardens.
The Spotted Flycatcher is widely distributed in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They occur across most of the United Kingdom in suitable habitats.
Spotted Flycatchers spend most of their time perched low in trees. They rarely perch on the ground, although they may descend to capture prey or feed among vegetation in bad weather.
Spotted Flycatcher perching on the end of a twig
Spotted Flycatchers were once common breeding visitors to the UK, although the species has declined by over 80% in the last 40 years. The reasons for their decline are not fully understood, although climatic changes and pesticide use may be significant drivers.
Spotted Flycatchers are most common in woodlands and other suitable areas from the south coast of England to Scotland.
Spotted Flycatcher feeding in natural woodland
Spotted Flycatchers have a typical lifespan of about two years, although they can live for up to eight years.
Spotted Flycatcher nests are particularly vulnerable to avian predators. A 2005-2006 study on nest predation in Southern England found that the Jay was responsible for more than half of the recorded attacks. However, domestic cats, grey squirrels, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and other nest predators also take their toll.
Spotted Flycatchers in the UK are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
Spotted Flycatchers are not threatened as a species, although they have suffered drastic declines in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe since the 1960s. They are now placed on the UK’s red list of conservation concern.
Spotted Flycatcher perching on a branch
Spotted Flycatchers nest in the United Kingdom, often to the delight of birdwatchers when they select gardens to raise their young. These birds are in steep decline, so encouraging and protecting nesting pairs could be important for their recovery in the UK.
Spotted Flycatchers build their nests in various natural and artificial sites, usually two to five meters above the ground. Typical locations are against vertical surfaces, on ledges, in creeping and climbing vegetation, and among tree branches.
Spotted Flycatcher eggs are whitish with reddish-brown markings. A typical clutch consists of four or five eggs, each measuring approximately 19 millimetres long and 14 millimetres wide.
Spotted Flycatchers are monogamous in the breeding season, and pairs remain together for the second brood.
Nest of a Spotted Flycatcher with five eggs
Spotted Flycatcher at nest feeding hungry chicks
Most often seen at their hunting perch, these birds fly out to catch prey and return to feed at the same spot throughout the day. Spotted Flycatchers are relatively tame birds that allow close approach, although their unobtrusive habits can make them difficult to detect.
Spotted Flycatchers are confident, although not aggressive, around humans. These birds prefer to advertise their territories with vocalisations rather than physical conflict. However, they may show great courage when confronted with a nest predator much larger than themselves.
Spotted Flycatcher calling out from the top of a tree
Spotted Flycatchers are long-distance migrants that may travel over 4000 miles to reach their overwintering grounds. These birds visit the UK and other parts of their Northern Hemisphere range in the late spring to nest and raise the next generation. They depart in the autumn to spend the non-breeding season in Central and Southern Africa.
Spotted Flycatchers are native breeding migrants to the United Kingdom.
Spotted Flycatcher perching in amongst the trees
Spotted Flycatchers can hover briefly when catching prey, inspecting potential nest sites, or collecting nesting material. They are not quite as acrobatic as hummingbirds, but they are certainly a very agile species.
The Spotted Flycatcher has a rather inaccurate name. These birds are more striped than spotted, although they certainly do catch flies! In their defence, the juveniles do sport spotted plumage.
Spotted Flycatchers have declined significantly in the UK, but bird enthusiasts can still encourage these birds to visit and even breed in their gardens. They do not usually visit bird tables, although a healthy garden with flowering plants will attract pollinating insects and provide a natural food source.
Birdwatchers can also encourage these birds to nest in the garden by installing a nest box. Our gardens may provide a relatively safe environment with fewer predators than natural woodlands, so this practice could undoubtedly benefit these birds in the UK. Open-fronted nest boxes placed a few meters above the ground stand the best chance of attracting a pair.
Previously classed as a member of the family Turdidae (predominantly thrushes) the red-flanked bluetail is now generally acknowledged to belong to the family of old world flycatchers, Muscicapidae. This monotypic passerine resembles the European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) in size, shape and behaviour.
A beloved garden companion, the Robin redbreast is the UK’s unofficial national bird. These cheerful birds can be seen and heard throughout the year as they forage and nest alongside us.
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