SPOTTED FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa striata)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (old world Flycatchers)

The Spotted Flycatcher is one of our last summer migrants to arrive, with some not arriving until early May or even June. During the breeding months, these seemingly dull birds can be seen dashing from perches to pluck insects from the air with deadly accuracy in woodlands and gardens. They spend the winter months in Africa with some going as far south as Namibia, a migration of nearly 7000km. Many of our summer visitors are experiencing declines and the spotted flycatcher is no exception having been on the red list since 1996.

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Alert Status:

Red - 61% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 42,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to spotted flycatcher song:


Spotted flycatchers are rather drab-looking birds, but they make up for this with their impressive flight skills. They have grey/brown upper parts and head with dark brown streaking on their crown and dark brown wings. Their underparts are a pale buff/white colour with brown streaking from the belly up to the throat/bib. Males and females look the same.

Average Length: 14 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 23-25 cm

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Spotted Flycatcher diet

Spotted flycatchers feed on flying insects by sitting on a perch and darting towards insects that fly past. When flying insects are scarce they will also forage for invertebrates in the vegetation and fruit is eaten during their large migration.

Spotted flycatcher breeding and nesting information

Spotted flycatchers begin breeding in mid to late May when a bulky nest is built from loosely piled sticks, decaying bark and other materials bound together with hair. They tend to build these nests in a tree hole, or in climbing plants against a wall or tree. A clutch of 4 to 5 eggs is laid and incubated by the female alone for 13 to 14 days until they hatch. The chicks are fed by both parents for another 12 to 17 days until they leave the nest. They will often produce two broods before the breeding season ends.

Threats to spotted flycatchers

Deterioration of habitat, including the loss of dead trees in which these birds nest, is thought to be one of the main drivers of declines in this species. Gardens have become important habitats for this species and nest failures are lowest in healthy garden habitats. Invasive predators such as grey squirrels have a significant negative impact on nest success in this species and are likely to drive further declines and make conservation efforts tricky. Increasing use of pesticides has also decreased the UK’s flying insect populations, reducing the available food for this species.

How you can help

Create an insect-friendly garden by allowing areas to grow long and avoid using any garden chemicals.

Consider planting climbing plants near walls or trees to provide possible nesting sites.

Petition to protect mature woodland.  

Fascinating Fact

Spotted flycatchers moult backwards, they replace their outer flight feathers first unlike other passerines that start with the feathers nearest the body.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Muscicapa striata. Downloaded from Accessed: 04/10/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (no date a) Spotted flycatcher | BTO - british trust for ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 04/10/2023.

Freeman, S. N., & Crick, H. Q. P. (2003). The decline of the Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata in the UK: an integrated population model. Ibis, 145(3), 400–412.  

Hernández, Á. (2009). Summer-autumn feeding ecology of Pied Flycatchers  Ficedula hypolueca and Spotted Flycatchers  Muscicapa striata: the importance of frugivory in a stopover area in north-west Iberia. Bird Conservation International.  

Kirby, W., Black, K., Pratt, S., & Bradbury, R. (2005). Territory and nest-site habitat associations of Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata breeding in central England. Ibis, 147(2), 420–424.  

Stevens, D. K., Anderson, G. Q. A., Grice, P. V., & Norris, K. (2007). Breeding success of Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata in southern England - Is woodland a good habitat for this species? Ibis, 149(S2), 214–223.  

Stevens, D. K., Anderson, G. Q. A., Grice, P. V., Norris, K., & Butcher, N. (2008). Predators of Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata nests in southern England as determined by digital nest-cameras. Bird Study, 55(2), 179–187.  

Stoate, C., & Szczur, J. (2006). Potential influence of habitat and predation on local breeding success and population in Spotted Flycatchers Muscicapa striata. Bird Study, 53(3), 328–330.  

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