Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) - Species Action Plan

Ref 2/S22 Species Action Plan 22
Plan Author: NCC and NE
Plan Co-ordinator: Communities & Nature Topic Group
Plan Leader RSPB
Final April 2007

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The spotted flycatcher has been in rapid and consistent decline since the early 1960s. Data derived from the Common Bird Census and the Breeding Bird Survey reveal an overall decline of 83 per cent between 1970 and 2004 (Eaton et al., 2006).
  • The species is scarcer in the far north and west and is almost absent from the Western and Northern Isles. There are additional gaps in distribution elsewhere but with no clear pattern.
  • The species is a common and widespread summer visitor across mainland Europe, except northern Scandinavia and densely forested, arid or mountainous areas. Numbers are fluctuating in some countries, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, and there is evidence of recent declines in others including Finland, Germany and Spain.
  • The spotted flycatcher is listed as a Red Data Book species and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the EC Birds Directive.

Norfolk Status

  • The spotted flycatcher nests in scattered locations across Norfolk, with an average occupancy of 1.4 pairs per occupied tetrad. There is an estimated total population of 660 breeding pairs in the county (M. Taylor, pers. comm.).
  • In keeping with national trends, there is evidence to suggest that the Norfolk population has experienced a substantial decline. In 1999, for example, The Birds of Norfolk (Taylor et al., 1999) defined the status of spotted flycatcher as a “common summer visitor”. By definition, this implies that there were between 1,001 and 5,000 breeding pairs in the county and suggests that there has been a sharp decrease in numbers over the last seven years.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

These are not well known, but may include one or more of the following:

  • Drought in the Sahel Region: This has been implicated in the declines of a number of trans-Saharan migrants. The spotted flycatcher passes through the Sahel region en route to wintering grounds in southern Africa. Changes in conditions in the Sahel or the wintering areas could be a factor in the species' decline but no clear link has yet been established.
  • Changes in Agriculture: Firm data on the importance of this for spotted flycatcher are lacking, but there is growing evidence that a range of birds found on lowland farmland areas are affected by low invertebrate availability during the summer.
  • Weather Effects in Europe: These appear to be important and could have population impacts if long-term climate change occurs. The key factor appears to be summer weather conditions; more birds breed early if temperatures are warmer, and one study found that clutch sizes are larger when there is more sunshine.
  • Nest Predation: There is some evidence to suggest that nest predation by grey squirrels may be significant.
  • Loss of Nest Sites: Many spotted flycatchers nest in large trees and there has been a large-scale loss of these in woodland, parks and hedgerows (especially following Dutch elm disease), which are favoured habitats. However, there are no quantitative data on the effects of these losses and it has been argued that the Norfolk population of spotted flycatchers continues to have access to many potential nesting sites (M. Taylor, pers. comm.).

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Until recently, the spotted flycatcher was not regarded as a species of conservation concern, so little action for the species was taken. However, some aspects of broadleaved woodland management, particularly the creation and maintenance of clearings and wide rides, will have benefited the species. The provision of nest-boxes (usually for other species) will also have helped spotted flycatchers, particularly in areas with a dearth of natural nest sites.
  • The Norfolk Spotted Flycatcher Project was set up in 2003 by Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia to monitor site fidelity, site occupancy and nesting success of individual spotted flycatchers to sites in Norfolk. The project has been a valuable source of data and has also helped to increase public awareness about the declines in this species.
  • The spotted flycatcher is one of 36 species featured in the NWT publication, Norfolk Wild File, produced in 2006.
  • Since the summer of 2000, different tetrads in the county have been surveyed each year for all bird species, including spotted flycatcher. The data resulting from these surveys will be published in the summer of 2008.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets

National

  • In England, ensure the BBS index is no longer showing a negative trend by 2010 and is at least at 100% of the 2003 level by 2015.
  • In England and Wales, maintain the percentage of occupied BBS squares at the 2003 level.

Norfolk

  • Maintain the Norfolk population at 660 pairs.

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