The pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) is a summer visitor to the UK. They are not easily seen as they tend to keep to the upper branches of trees. The males have a striking plumage consisting of a white underside and black back, black head mask and black primary wing feathers. There is a noticeable white patch on the upper wing and a less conspicuous one on the forehead at the base of the upper part of the bill. Females have a brown back and head mask, while the upper wings and tail are darker grey-brown. The underside is more buff in colour than the striking white of the male. Juvenile birds have similar markings to the female. The birds can vary somewhat in their plumage depending on the local race of the species. There is a closely related bird found in central Europe, Asia Minor and North West Africa called the collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). They are very similar in appearance to the pied flycatcher and, where the two species’ ranges overlap, hybrids have been known to occur. The call of the pied flycatcher is a sharp, metallic-sounding ‘pik-pik-pik’ and the song is a melodious high-pitched warble.
Flycatchers get their family name from their method of catching insects on the wing. The birds choose a prominent perch from which they make rapid forays after their insect prey.
Pied flycatchers arrive in the UK in April and establish their nests in tree holes or nest boxes. The nest can be anywhere between one and fifteen metres above the ground. Up to eight pale greeny-blue eggs are laid and both sexes carry out the job of incubation. The eggs hatch after 13 days and the chicks are fed by the parent birds for another two weeks, before the young leave the nest. The birds start their return migration in October.
Pied flycatchers range across most of Europe and into Russia. They winter in southern Europe and West Africa. In the UK, their breeding areas are concentrated in Wales and north-west England. The birds are not recorded as breeding in south-east England.
The pied flycatcher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (as mended) in the UK. Listed as a species of conservation concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green list (low conservation concern).
Pied flycatchers have an uncertain status in the UK. Having extended their British range since the 1940s, their populations are now thought to be stable. However, figures are uncertain as their preferred breeding habitat is not sufficiently well monitored for an accurate population census to be carried out. The initial increase in the population was thought to be the result of more nestboxes being made available, but the bird’s numbers show a slight downward trend based on figures from Welsh sites.
The pied flycatcher is a species that appears to be managing to maintain its numbers but which might also prove to be vulnerable. The birds are regular users of nestboxes where these are provided, but they also show a tendency to suffer egg and chick losses due to adverse weather conditions. Where information is available on bird numbers, the populations seem to be fairly stable. However, their upland breeding sites are not being monitored with sufficient regularity to enable an accurate census of the species to take place. As it stands, the bird is currently listed as a species of conservation concern.
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