Spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

French: Gobemouche gris
GenusMuscicapa (1)
SizeLength: 12-14 cm (2)

The spotted flycatcher is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (6). Listed under the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List, Annex II of the Convention on Migratory Species (the Bonn Convention), and Annex III of the Bern Convention. Protected in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (3).

Adult spotted flycatchers (Muscicapa striata) are ashy-brown with a softly streaked dullish white breast; the forehead is also streaked (4). Younger birds have pale brown spots on the head and back (2). They usually perch in a very upright position on vantage points (4); this habit earned the species the local name 'post bird' (5). The voice is thin but distinctive, including a 'see tk-tk' when disturbed (2).

The breeding range extends across Europe from the Atlantic coast east to lake Baikal in Russia, north to Sweden and Finland and south to the Mediterranean. The spotted flycatcher is found throughout Britain and Ireland with higher densities in Devon, Kent and Dornoch Firth. It is very scarce in the far north and west (4).

The spotted flycatcher prefers natural habitats such as mature broadleaved woodland with plenty of clearings, but can also be found in hedgerows containing mature trees, parkland and gardens. Mature conifer woodlands are also used (3).

Spotted flycatchers migrate over long distances; they winter in South Africa and reach the UK in mid-May. As the name indicates, they feed on flying insects such as flies, beetles, aphids and wasps. In warm weather they perch in a very alert posture, watching for prey (2). They suddenly propel themselves into the air to pursue the insect in a series of agile, twisting manoeuvres, and return to their original position (5).

Nests are built in sheltered locations from twigs, moss and grass with a soft lining of hair, wool and feathers. Between 4 and 5 pale brown-blotched eggs are laid in the first clutch, and a second brood may be produced which is usually smaller than the first. In some cases the first brood assists the parents in raising the second (2).

The species has been undergoing a substantial decline since the 1960s (3). British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) surveys have shown that between 1970 and 1998 there was a 68% decline in spotted flycatcher numbers (2). The reasons for this decline are not yet well known, but may include the factors outlined below (3). Many spotted flycatchers nest in large mature trees, which have been reduced in numbers in woodlands, hedgerows and parks. Climatic factors may be important, particularly in the summer; studies have found that warmer temperatures result in early breeding and larger clutches (3), and insect food availability will also be high. In cool summers, insect food will be less abundant and chick survival can be seriously affected. Although there is a lack of solid evidence, it seems likely that changes in agricultural practices such as the increased use of pesticides may have had an effect on this species, as many farmland birds suffer from low invertebrate prey abundance in the summer. Decreases in livestock (which attract flies) may also have contributed to this (2). In addition, problems in the wintering area, or during the migration may have negative effects on the species (3).

The spotted flycatcher was only recently recognised as a species for conservation concern, there has therefore been little conservation work targeted at this bird. However it will have benefited from certain management practices used in broadleaved woodland, such as the creation of broad rides and clearings. Where natural nesting sites are scarce, the provision of artificial nest boxes will aid the spotted flycatcher. The spotted flycatcher is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan; the Species Action Plan produced in order to guide the conservation of the species aims to stop or reverse the current decline by 2003 (3).

For more on British birds see the RSPB website:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

Information authenticated by the RSPB:

  1. UNEP-WCMC (November 2001)
  2. RSPB (November 2001)
  3. UK Biodiversity (November 2001)
  4. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G., Hollom. (1993) Collins Field Guide. Birds of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London.
  5. Greenoak, F. (1997) British birds, their folklore, names and literature. Christopher Helm A&C Black, London.
  6. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)