MAIN MENU (leading to individual articles):
AMPHIBIANS | BIRDS  |   BUTTERFLIIES & MOTHS  | DRAGONFLIES  |   OTHER INSECTS
MAMMALS   |  PLANTS  |  ORCHIDS   |  LICHENS  |  FUNGI
 |  WHAT TO SEE MONTH BY MONTH  
FURNESS  |  BIRKRIGG COMMON  |  CONTACT DETAILS  |  HOME


FLYCATCHERS IN CUMBRIA

The Pied Flycatcher is a spring migrant that arrives in the county from mid-April onwards having returned from West Africa. The black and white males arrive a week or two before the browner females and sing to establish a territory. The species is well known for being polygamous but the first spouse gets most help with raising the brood and is usually more successful.

Numbers have been decreasing in recent years. It is thought that the early onset of spring may have brought forward the emergence of the insect larvae that feed in the oak woodlands, one of the main habitats of the bird, so that by the time they have arrived and hatched a brood their food supply is diminishing. Furthermore, non-migrant species like Great Tits start to breed earlier in good weather and take the best nesting holes before Pied Flycatchers arrive. A wood needs to be in a suitable stage of development if it is to provide enough suitable nest holes.

However the species does take to nest boxes readily and at some woodland reserves the entrance holes of the boxes are plugged with rags by wardens until late April to stop other species taking up residence first! Studies have shown the provision of nest boxes may more than double the population of Pied Flycatchers in a wood -they will accept quite high densities. Nest boxes also allow population changes to be monitored fairly easily.

As males tend to stop singing once they have mated this is a surprisingly elusive species and one that is always a delight to find. Males revert to a browner colour in the autumn although this is unlikely to be seen as, once nesting is completed, they seem to disappear for the last few weeks before migration begins.

The Spotted Flycatcher is a more widespread species in the county than the Pied, but still rather patchy in disribution - abundant in places (such as Rusland and Grizedale) but quite scarce in others (such as the Furness peninsula). A species of woodland glades in general rather than oak woods in particular, it has also adapted really well to man's influence and makes ready use of parks and large gardens. As its insect prey for feeding young is not usually sufficienlty numerous on the wing until June it's the last of our migrants to arrive - it doesn't bother to return from Africa until early May and it may well be mid-June before a nest is built and ready.

However, it is a species that has shown a marked decline in recent years and is now on the Red list. Like other declining species, such as the Wood Warbler and Cuckoo, it is a species that has not significantly changed its arrival date in this country. Species like the Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and Sand Martin are arriving earlier and earlier and their numbers are stable or increasing. Because of global warming the peak of insect numbers on which these migrants feed is occuring earlier each year and those species which haven't adjusted appear to be suffering by missing the peak in food supply.

It neither announces its presence by strong colour or vibrant song but what it lacks in interest in that way it more than makes up for in aerobatic technique. It sallies forth to snatch an insect and returns to the same perch in one swift convoluted movement - Pied Flycatchers tend to return to a different perch. Watch carefully as it holds its wings back between strokes.

It's plumage is not as the name would suggest but is more streaked than spotted about the head and chest. However, juveniles do live up to their name in appearing very spotty (see below!).

The choice of nest site can be quite varied and adaptable - tree hole, old blackbird nest, open-fronted nest box or even a coconut shell! It does like to watch the world go by as it incubates the 3 - 5 eggs and must be able to face forward and see out.

My neighbour recently had a nest in the shade of a tree in an old cocunut shell - it pays to have them fixed to the tree rather than swinging if you want to attract Spotted Flycatcher! Four greenish-white eggs with brown spots hatched on the 5/6th July into the tiniest of nestlings. Even so, catching enough insects to raise them to fledging was a full-time job and from the outset the two parents made up to six visits to the nest every quarter of an hour - remarkable when you consider the acrobatic effort expended in catching the smallest of insects! It was amazing to see the rate of growth and the chicks fledged in wet weather on the 17th July after just 12 days.

For me this is an under-rated bird with a lovely profile. It is well worth looking out for - it must be one of the hardest working of all our native bird species given the effort it makes to collect each and every beakful of small insects, which can hardly be the most nutritious of food. It then flies down to sub-Saharan Africa to find enough food to stay alive over winter before returning in spring, often to the very same nest site to start all over again!