On this very cold and damp Sunday morning, let’s look back at one of our summer visitors: Muscicapa striata, the spotted fly catcher.
Spotted flycatchers are migratory insectivores: they arrive late, not getting here until April or May, when the water fly begin to hatch, and they stay for the summer. They leave in September or October as our flying insect population enters a period of winter-dormancy, and they fly south to warmer places – and how we envy them.
Spotted flycatchers are long-distance migrants, making enormous record-breaking journeys. The majority of them, at the moment, are spending their winter south of the Sahara in tropical Africa in order to ensure a stable, year-round, supply of insect food.
Here, in their summer home, spotted flycatchers look for habitat with tall trees or hedges. They choose a high vantage point from which they dash out to catch passing insects and then return immediately to their perch with their catch. This behaviour is not only charming to watch but diagnostic, a distinctive identifier. They typically hunt flying insects, moths, butterflies, damselflies, craneflies or caddis fly but, if the weather is bad, they will search trees and shrubs for spiders, mites and other creepy-crawly food.
Spotted flycatchers have been called creative nest builders. They look for nooks and crannies, crevices and cracks, as likely to choose an idiosyncratic spot around your garden or outhouses as in the reserve’s woodland edges. They often rear two broods of nestlings in a single season.
They’re on the RSPB’s UK Birds of Conservation Concern Red List because they are in critical decline. Their population fell by 89% between 1967 and 2010. The largest part of that decline has occurred since the BTO’s survey in 1988–91. The reason for their decline seems unclear but coincides with the 60% decline in insects in the UK since the turn of the century.
Spotted flycatchers are protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981