Birds: Spotted Flycatcher
A widespread but declining species in Ireland, the Spotted Flycatcher is strictly a summer visitor, arriving in May and departing for southern Africa in September. A small bird, just 15cm in length, about the same size as a sparrow, it nevertheless has quite a stocky build, making it appear somewhat larger.
As its name suggests, the Spotted Flycatcher specialises in feeding on flying insects, which it looks for while perched prominently on a bare branch, flying out to grab its prey when the opportunity presents itself before returning to its perch. Its bill is extremely broad at the base and is surrounded by tiny facial "bristles" that serve to funnel insects into the wide-open mouth: the perfect fly-catching machine.
Grey-brown above and paler below, with a finely-streaked breast and crown, the Spotted Flycatcher may not be the most visually arresting of our birds, though it does look quite smart when seen up close. It is frequently located by its call, a high-pitched "tsee" note that sounds a bit like a squeaky wheelbarrow.
Formerly a common bird of Irish parks, larger gardens and woodland edges, since the 1960s the population has been falling at an alarming rate for reasons that are not fully clear. There are probably several factors at work, including drought in the species' wintering grounds and a general drop in the number of insects here in Europe.
?More If you would like to help reverse the decline of birds like the Spotted Flycatcher, you might like to consider becoming a member of BirdWatch Ireland or volunteering to help with one of their bird surveys. Write to BirdWatch Ireland, PO Box 12, Greystones, Co Wicklow, call 01 2819878 or visit www.birdwatchireland.ie.