PIED FLYCATCHER (Ficedula hypoleuca)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (Old World Flycatchers)

The Pied Flycatcher is a rare breeding bird in the UK, with the Oak woodlands of Wales providing a stronghold for these beautiful birds. There are breeding populations in mature woodland in the North of England and Scotland. These summer visitors arrive in April and can be seen skilfully picking flying insects from the air or on their migration paths back to trans-Saharan Africa in September. The UK’s pied flycatcher population declined in the early 2000s but evidence suggests that this decline is levelling off.

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Alert Status:

Amber -59% decline

Estimated number of breeding pairs: 23,500

Listen to Pied Flycatcher song:


Pied flycatchers are slightly smaller than house sparrows and relatively easy to identify. Male pied flycatchers have mostly black backs and heads, except for large white spots on the wings and two small white spots on their foreheads. Females have mottled brown backs with the same white wing spots and forehead spots. Both the males and females have white underparts.

Average Length: 13 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 years

Average Wingspan: 21-24 cm

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Pied Flycatcher diet

During the breeding season, pied flycatchers eat invertebrates such as caterpillars and flying insects, which they hunt skilfully from a perch. They may visit gardens that are teeming with invertebrates so consider creating an insect-friendly garden. Late in the summer and on migration they switch their diet to fruit and seeds as invertebrate numbers drop.

Pied Flycatcher Breeding and nesting information

Breeding begins in April when the female chooses a suitable mate and ends in late June. The nest is a loose cup built in a hole in a tree or nest box up to 10 metres off the ground. Usually, 6-7 eggs are laid and incubated for 14 days by the female before hatching. The chicks are then fed by both parents for a further 15-16 days before they leave the nest. Due to their relatively short breeding season, pied flycatchers usually only produce one brood per season.

Threats to Pied Flycatchers

Pied Flycatchers underwent declines in the early 2000s and while this levelled out they are not recovering at a high rate. They face a number of threats such as climate-driven droughts in the wintering grounds and the loss of invertebrates through pesticide use. The main concern for this species is climate change which affects this species in a very specific way. Warmer temperatures have caused their favoured prey (caterpillars) to come out earlier in the year. The timing of the pied flycatcher’s migration has not responded to this and therefore there is not sufficient food for both the adults and the young. This has increased nest failures and reduced the number of successful fledglings.

How you can help

Petition the government to take immediate action against climate change.

Create an insect-friendly garden by avoiding harsh chemicals and allowing areas to grow long.

Petition local areas to install nest boxes in mature woodlands to help the spread of this species.

Fascinating Fact

Pied flycatchers will help each other chase away potential predators, but if an individual does not help, they will be left to fight the predator off on their own in the future!
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Ficedula hypoleuca. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/european-pied-flycatcher-ficedula-hypoleuca. Accessed:02/11/2023.

Both, C., Bijlsma, R. G., & Visser, M. E. (2005). Climatic effects on timing of spring migration and breeding in a long-distance migrant, the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Journal of Avian Biology, 36(5), 368–373. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.0908-8857.2005.03484.X

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Pied flycatcher, BTO. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/pied-flycatcher. Accessed: 02/11/2023  

Goodenough, A. E., Elliot, S. L., & Hart, A. G. (2009). The challenges of conservation for declining migrants: are reserve-based initiatives during the breeding season appropriate for the Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca? Ibis, 151(3), 429–439. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.1474-919X.2009.00917.X

Krams, I., Krama, T., Igaune, K., & Mänd, R. (2008). Experimental evidence of reciprocal altruism in the pied flycatcher. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-007-0484-1

Laaksonen, T., Ahola, M., Eeva, T., Väisänen, R. A., & Lehikoinen, E. (2006). Climate change, migratory connctivity and changes in laying date and clutch size of the pied flycatcher. Oikos, 114(2), 277–290. https://doi.org/10.1111/J.2006.0030-1299.14652.X

Sirkiä, P. M., & Laaksonen, T. (2009). Distinguishing between male and territory quality: females choose multiple traits in the pied flycatcher. Animal Behaviour, 78(5), 1051–1060. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.ANBEHAV.2009.06.022

Woodward,I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A.& Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and theUnited Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104. https://britishbirds.co.uk

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