The Spotted Flycatcher is included in our list of garden birds not because they’ll eat any food put out for them – they largely only eat flying insects – but because, for some lucky few homeowners, the species will sometimes nest in gardens. Although at a glance the Spotted Flycatcher has rather dull appearance, a closer inspection reveals a highly attractive little bird with subtle silver-grey and brown plumage. Sadly, this is a UK summer migrant bird which has suffered a huge decline in numbers in recent decades.
Spotted Flycatcher diet and food
Spotted Flycatchers feed almost exclusively on flying insects – including relatively large ones such as butterflies and moths – which it catches on the wing (see notes under ‘behaviour’ for how it does this). In poor weather when the number of flying insects which are airborne is limited, the species will often move through vegetation in search of stationery insect prey.
Spotted Flycatcher nesting and breeding habits
A wide variety of nest sites are used, including natural holes in trees, gaps behind bark and broken tree limbs, behind creepers such as ivy on trees or climbing plants like honeysuckle against walls and fences in gardens, manmade holes such as pipes in walls, plus open-fronted nest boxes may be used if well concealed behind a climbing plant. The nest is a cup of grasses, thin twigs and roots, and lined with fine materials such hair, feathers or dead leaves. There is one or sometimes two broods per season, with the female usually incubating the 4-5 eggs alone. Both parents feed the young, though, interestingly, at first the female alone normally does so but with food brought to the nest by the male.
Behaviour traits of Spotted Flycatchers
By far the most notable behaviour of the Spotted Flycatcher is the way it catches flying insects on the wing: The bird will perch on something like an exposed branch or fence post, then suddenly take off, catch an insect in the air, then return to exactly the same spot having completed a loop in the process.
Spotted Flycatcher history and population trends
Since the 1960s, the Spotted Flycatchers in the UK have suffered a massive decline in their numbers, with BTO figures showing an 89% reduction between 1967 and 2010. The reasons for the decline are thought to be numerous and may include less flying insects as a result of deterioration in woodland quality. However, it seems more likely that factors affecting the species in its wintering grounds and migration routes are more to blame, with this conclusion coming from the fact the population crash has largely been across the UK in all habitats, and not just in areas of native woodland.