The Pied Flycatcher

David Chapman / 22 April 2010

The pied flycatcher is a very special bird that never fails to increase my pulse rate.

It is a migrant species visiting Britain between May and August and can be found in gardens but only if you live in the right area and habitat.

As its name suggests, the male pied flycatcher is black and white though the female’s plumage combines grey-brown and white. In common with most other birds there is an element of the male’s plumage which makes him more successful in finding a mate. In the case of the male pied flycatcher it is the size of the white patch on his forehead which makes him irresistible to the ladies but research has shown that good looks are not necessarily an advantage.

The good looking males, which have larger areas of white on their foreheads, are more frequently tempted to 'play away' by females attracted to them, as a result, these males have more offspring to provide for and so, ironically, they have less chance of surviving.

The pied flycatcher catches more than just flies; it will take any insects in flight including butterflies. To do this, it has exceptionally quick responses and an agile flight. Like all flycatchers it has favoured perches from which to launch assaults on the swarms of midges and flies in its chosen habitat.

Pied flycatchers live almost exclusively in and around oak trees, usually showing a preference for relatively dense areas of woodland. They are most common in Wales, Western and Northern England and parts of Scotland. Fortunately this is one species of bird which is on the increase; its range is expanding, albeit fairly slowly, from its historic strongholds into new areas.

One reason for this success is the willingness of pied flycatchers to adopt artificial nest sites. In the wild their nests are made in tree-holes but nest boxes designed for tits will suffice. Their only problem is that most nest boxes are already occupied by resident tits by the time they arrive back in this country. So if you want to try to attract pied flycatchers you have to put up more nest boxes than can be filled by your local tit families.

It’s too late to attract them for this year, but if you live in an area of the country close to where pied flycatchers are currently found and have some oak trees around your garden then put up some nest boxes now ready for next year. Birds being born this year will have a look for nest sites before leaving for Africa in late summer.

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