Bird Families

Gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)



Sem. Flycatcher - Muscicapidae

Of the flycatchers in the Northwest, 3 species live in the warm season: the pied flycatcher, gray flycatcher and small flycatcher. The first two species are numerous and ubiquitous. The Lesser Flycatcher is a rarer bird and is unevenly distributed.


The gray flycatcher is found in the Leningrad region. almost everywhere. It nests in a wide variety of biotopes: in parks, settlements and in various types of forests. Prefers light, middle-aged or mature mixed and deciduous forests, as well as pine forests. Most numerous on forest edges and in old suburban parks.

The abundance of the gray flycatcher is subject to long-term ups and downs. After a noticeable increase in the number of breeding pairs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, their numbers declined in 1953-1955. A new rise was observed in the mid-60s. In 1976-1977. gray flycatchers have again become rare everywhere. Since 1978, they are already more common, and by 1980-1981. became numerous again.

The high degree of ecological plasticity of the gray flycatcher is indicated by the fact that during the nesting period it can be found both in the most remote and remote areas of the virgin forest, and in Leningrad. Here, its permanent nesting sites are the park of the Forestry Academy, the Central Park of Culture and Leisure, the garden of the Botanical Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences and many other parks and gardens of the city. There are known cases of nesting of this species on the Mendeleevskaya line, at the Alexander Nevsky Lavra, on the street. Komsomol at the Finland Station and on other streets. During the spring and autumn migration, gray flycatchers are common even in small squares in the central regions of Leningrad.

Fig. 66. The nest of the gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), placed at the base of a lateral branch of a pine tree, attracts attention by its unusual design for this species.
Southwest Ladoga area, July 1979. Photo by V. I. Golovan.

In settlements and villages, gray flycatchers make nests on the eaves of houses, behind window frames, in wall niches, in old nests of swallows. Sometimes they settle inside abandoned houses, entering them through ajar doors or windows. We found nests built inside street lamps, on mailboxes, on the handle of a shovel attached to the wall, etc. No less variety in the location of nests of gray flycatchers is observed in forest biotopes. Here birds build nests on stumps and on the tops of broken tree trunks (52 cases), in frost cracks, in depressions formed in places where knots fall out (71 findings), in flaws in trunks damaged by woodpeckers (23), behind peeling bark (11) , in the fork of the main trunk (8), behind the stem shoots and in whorls of branches (27), between the trunks of closely growing trees (4), in root inversions (5), in funnels for collecting resin (5). Two nests were found in old blackbirds nests, one in an old chaffinch nest. On the islands in the western part of Lake Ladoga. gray flycatchers sometimes nest in crevices and on the eaves of rocks.

Fig. 67. A nest of a gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) placed on a rock.
Karelian Isthmus, Cancer Lakes region, June 1966. Photo by Yu. B. Pukinsky.

The height of the location of the nests varies greatly. Sometimes on rotten stumps or in flaws in the trunks, nests are placed close to the ground or right on the ground. Sometimes they are arranged at a height of 10-11 m above the ground. However, most often in the Leningrad region. nests are located at the level of 3-4 m.

The design of the nest largely depends on its location (Fig. 66, 67). When placed in the whorls of trees, the nest usually has a regular shape, thick, even walls, and in some cases it is even inlaid with lichens or insect cocoons. The nests built in the groove of the stumps, on the contrary, are simplified and have almost no outer walls. The nest material is very diverse. In city parks and villages, gray flycatchers willingly use cotton wool, paper, rags.In forest biotopes, the tray is usually lined with soft plant material or a small amount of animal hair. In some nests, the tray is lined with feathers of hazel grouse, black grouse and other birds.

Gray flycatchers appear in the Leningrad Region, as a rule, at the end of the 1st - the beginning of the 2nd decade of May. An exceptionally early arrival of flycatchers (April 28!) Was noted by V.L.Bianki near the village. Lebyazhye. In 1981, when the weather was unusually cold until the 20th of May and snow fell repeatedly, gray flycatchers in the area of ​​the Svirskaya Bay first appeared only on 26 May. It is striking that in late springs, gray flycatchers appear the very next day after warming.

Fig. 68. Oscillograms of the flycatchers' demonstration songs:
1 - gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata). Surroundings of the village. Vyritsa, May 1981
2 - small flycatcher (M. parva). Pskov option. Upper reaches of Pskov, June 1981, 3 - pied flycatcher (M. hypoleuca). Surroundings of the village. Vyritsa, May 1981
V. I. Golovan's notes.

The male of the gray flycatcher has a peculiar spring song, accompanied by demonstrative behavior. It consists of single or double citing sounds that sometimes follow each other for a long time. The current behavior of gray flycatchers is interesting: the rapid alternation of extremely diverse demonstrative poses, the loop-like flight of the male over the tops of the trees, the creaky chirping - all this is aimed at attracting the attention of the female. After its appearance on the nesting site, the demonstrative behavior of the male fades away.

Gray flycatchers in the Leningrad Region for oviposition. start rather late. The earliest known date for the appearance of the first egg is May 23 (1966, Luga district), and over a 9-year period of continuous stationary observations in the southeastern Ladoga area - May 30 (1977), the earliest beginning of nesting in the southern Karelia — May 28 [Zimin, Ivanter, 1969]. For the south of Finland, a case of laying eggs by a gray flycatcher in 1931 already on May 20-21 (1969) is given. The latest clutches are in the Leningrad Region. appear in the first decade of July. In 161 gray flycatcher nests found in the Leningrad and Pskov regions, oviposition began at the following dates:

May - - 11
June 85 47 13
July 5 - -

Complete clutches of gray flycatchers usually contain 4-5 eggs (Fig. 69). In cases of forced re-nesting, there are, as a rule, reduced clutches, with a reduced number of eggs. In one complete clutch there was only 1 egg, in 5 - 2 each, 15 - 3 each, 56 - 4 each, 96 - 5 each, and only 9 - 6 eggs each.

Fig. 69. Clutch of gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striala) with the most typical coloring of eggs. The upper reaches of the Pskov, June 1981. Photo by V.I.Golovan.

Observations of colored birds showed that only females participate in incubation. Males at this time keep close to the nests and sometimes (from 2 to 5 times per hour) bring food to the females. The phenomenon of polygyny that is so characteristic of pied flycatchers was not found in gray flycatchers. Even in cases of very late nesting, both birds always keep near the nest.

Fig. 70. The male of the gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) feeds the female sitting on the nest.
The upper reaches of the Pskov, June 1981. Photo by V.I.Golovan.

The nests of gray flycatchers are most often ruined by corvids, great spotted woodpeckers and small mustelids. When nesting in funnels for collecting resin, there were cases of death of clutches and chicks from the accumulation of resin or water in the nests. The size of the death of offspring, even in the same area, can vary greatly from year to year. According to long-term observations of A.S. Malchevsky, the number of chicks that left the nest in relation to the number of eggs laid near Leningrad in the 1950s was 69%. In the area of ​​the Svirskaya Bay, for the period from 1975 to 1980, this indicator varied from 45 to 80%.

The emergence of chicks of the gray flycatcher from the nests occurs from the end of June to the 1st decade of August. The earliest emergence was observed on June 24-25, 1966 (Cancer Lakes), and the latest on August 6 (1977, village of Meryovo). Already at 11 days of age, chicks, when frightened, are able to jump out of the nest. If they are not disturbed, they remain in it for up to 13-14 days. At 16 days of age, fledglings fly quite confidently.Two weeks after leaving the nest, they make their first attempts to grab a flying insect. Gray flycatchers become completely independent at 32-34 days of age.
Molting in young gray flycatchers begins at the age of 23-26 days and usually lasts from mid-July to the second decade of August, but even in mid-September, birds from late broods show signs of molting. From the middle of July, a partial molt of adult birds begins, which sometimes coincides in time with the end of the nesting period. In birds that we caught at nests with chicks in the second half of July - early August, tertiary flight feathers and tail coverts, as well as feathers on the head, neck, back and underside of the body, were replaced.

Among our flycatchers, the gray one is the most specialized in the method of obtaining food. It hunts mainly in the upper tiers of the forest, or on the edges of the forest lit by the sun and clearings, where it catches mainly flying insects. Only in cool and rainy weather does it sometimes collect food on the ground. Chicks at an early age most often get dipterans, less often butterflies. Spiders and lepidoptera caterpillars, which form the basis of food for chicks of other flycatchers, do not play a significant role in the diet of gray flycatchers. Grown-up chicks eat hymenoptera, mayflies and beetles. Shortly before the chicks leave, the parents feed them horseflies and dragonflies. However, irrespective of the nesting conditions, dipterans always predominate in the diet of gray flycatchers [Prokof'eva, 1966a]. In late July - early August, gray flycatchers often visit elderberry bushes, the berries of which they readily eat.

Fig. 71. A young gray flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) feeds on elderberries.
Luga district, village Meryovo, August 1966. Photo by A. S. Malchevsky.

Observations of tagged individuals showed that young and adult gray flycatchers continue to inhabit the nesting area until early or mid-August, i.e., until autumn migration. The latest captures of local individuals fall on the 2nd decade of August. An insignificant part of them is probably delayed until the beginning of September. Rare sightings of passing gray flycatchers are possible even in October. For example, in 1979, a single bird appeared in the park in front of the University on October 10. In 1968, one gray flycatcher was kept in the park on K. Marx Ave. until October 22!

Gray flycatchers overwinter in northern and western Africa [Portenko, 1960]. There is still no data on the wintering grounds of gray flycatchers nesting in the Leningrad Region.

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Gray flycatcher: bird description

This is a small (sparrow-like) bird with a brownish-gray back and a light belly. Dark brown streaks on the forehead, crown and sides. Males and females are colored similarly, and young individuals differ from them with a motley back. Its beak is strongly flattened and surrounded by rigid bristles.

How does the gray flycatcher behave in nature?

Usually the bird sits vertically on some branch not high from the ground and shakes its wings.From time to time, she takes off from her place to catch an insect flying by. Taking off into the air, the bird seems to freeze in place for a few moments, fluttering its wings and looking closely at the prey, and then quickly grabs it, loudly clicking its beak.

The gray flycatcher does not belong to famous singers, its voice can be heard extremely rarely.

Where the gray flycatcher hibernates, dwells and nests

The gray flycatcher is a migratory bird that leads winters in Africa, Western Asia and India.

The nesting area covers the whole of Europe, in Siberia it is found up to Transbaikalia, also nests in Asia Minor and Central Asia, in northwest Africa.

Birds arrive at nesting sites late, when a sufficient number of flying insects appear.

They avoid dense forests, usually settling near forest edges, in overgrown clearings and burnt-out areas, as well as along wooded ravines in the steppe, in gardens and parks. But most of all, these birds love lighter old pine forests, rich in convenient places for hunting and nesting.

There are always many flying insects near a person's dwelling, therefore flycatchers often settle in the neighborhood of people. In settlements, nests are usually arranged behind window frames, on eaves under roofs, in woodpiles of firewood, in the voids of lamp posts and other similar places. Birds and artificial nesting sites are also occupied.

Designed specifically for gray flycatchers, they are in the shape of a flat box with a horizontal slotted entrance. The construction of the nest, which begins immediately after the formation of a pair, is mainly occupied by the female, the male only brings building material. The nest is usually bowl-shaped, consists of dry blades of grass, thin branches of moss, sometimes lichens, pieces of birch bark, soaked bast fibers, pine needles.

A full clutch contains four to six bluish-white eggs covered with numerous rusty-brown specks. The female incubates for 11-12 days. After hatching, the chicks stay in the nest for 13-14 days, during which both parents feed them, arriving with food 350-400 times a day.

Mosses, horseflies, diurnal butterflies, dragonflies serve as food. The chicks that have flown out of the nests are not yet able to get food, and the parents continue to feed them until the fledglings learn to catch insects themselves. After that, the brood breaks up and the young birds start independent migrations through the forests.

Although the last flycatchers fly away in late September - early October, when the flying insects disappear, it is difficult to see them in the last months before departure. Birds are quite silent by nature; in the fall they practically do not emit any sounds at all, but stay mainly in the upper tiers of the forest.

Video about gray flycatcher - how it behaves in nature.


The size of a sparrow. The main color of the top is brownish or olive-gray, the ventral side is brownish-white, with longitudinal gray streaks. On the gray top of the head there are also streaks, even darker. All these streaks on the head and along the bottom of the body are collected in more or less clearly pronounced longitudinal stripes. The male and female are colored similarly, the male has a cleaner white throat and abdomen. It differs from the Siberian flycatcher in a lighter color, especially a light forehead with distinct streaks, the absence of a light semi-collar. It differs from the broad-billed flycatcher in the presence of streaks on the head and lower body, in the absence of lightening around the eye and between the eye and beak. In the autumn plumage, the color is the same, but with an ocher tinge. In the post-nesting period, juveniles (nesting outfit) have many light streaks on the upper feathers, and a scaly pattern below. In autumn juveniles, coloration is the same as in adults, but light spots are preserved on the upper tail coverts; there are wide light buffy edges on tertiary flight feathers and large upper wing coverts. Weight 13-20 g, length 14-17, wing 8.1-9.2, span 23-28 cm.


On migration occurs everywhere. The breeding area is ruptured, nests in the Ural valley, in Northern Kazakhstan, along the Irtysh and Altai, as well as in Karatau. For more detailed distribution in Kazakhstan, see the Subspecies section.


Common breeding migrant.Inhabits light deciduous forests, birch-pine groves, the outskirts of pine and taiga forests, mountain deciduous and juniper forests and groves at altitudes up to 1450-1900 m in Altai, and 2000 m in the Western Tien Shan. During migration occurs in floodplain forests, gardens, reed and shrub thickets, and forest belts. Appears in mid-late April or early May in spring; migration ends in late May - early June. Breeds in separate pairs at a distance of 25-100 m from each other. The nest is located on a tree (elm, willow, poplar, birch, pine, high-stemmed juniper), on stumps, in tree hollows or in building cavities at a height of 1-14, usually 1-5 m from the ground. Within 4-7 days, only the female builds a nest from cobwebs, dry grass, woody and shrub bast, and lines it with thin grass, sometimes adding wool, feathers and plant fluff. Clutch of 3-6 eggs is laid in mid-May - early July. Only the female incubates him for 11-14 days, the male feeds her at this time. Both parents feed juveniles, which fledge at 13-14 days of age, from late June to mid-August. Re-nesting after loss of first clutch is common. Autumn migration begins in early August, most birds migrate in the second half of August - early September. Some birds are observed until the end of September - mid-October.

Sources of information

Gavrilov E. I., Gavrilov A. E. "The Birds of Kazakhstan". Almaty, 2005. E. I. Gavrilov. "Fauna and distribution of birds in Kazakhstan". Almaty, 1999. V.K. Ryabitsev. "Birds of the Urals, Urals and Western Siberia". Ekaterinburg. Publishing house of the Ural University, 2000.