Spotted Flycatchers breed in woodlands in Eurasia
where they are the commonest flycatcher, with nearly 8
million breeding pairs. They breed all the way from
Portugal to Russia, east of the Ural Mountains in Asia.
Twice a year, they migrate across the Sahara Desert.
They spend the non-breeding season in woodland
throughout equatorial and southern Africa; in arid
regions they occur along tree-lined rivers, and even in
gardens with trees around farmhouses.
Spotted Flycatchers from throughout the breeding
range have been recorded in South Africa.
This slideshow explores their seasonal occurrence.
Feeding and moulting
In both the north and the south, Spotted Flycatchers
hunt insects from perches, which provide vantage
points surrounded by open space. Any insect that flies
into this space is at risk.
The flycatcher launches from its perch, and snaps its
beak shut on the insect, catching them in flight.
Almost all small birds replace their flight feathers every
year, systematically from the innermost to the
outermost. The Spotted Flycatcher is the only species
known to moult in the “wrong” direction, from the
outside towards the inside. This moult takes place in
Africa, during the non-breeding season.
SABAP2 distribution map for the
Spotted Flycatcher, downloaded 6
June 2017. Pentads with four or more
checklists are either shaded white,
species not recorded, or in colour,
with shades based on reporting rate.
Reporting rates are highest in
pentads shaded blue, and lowest in
those shaded yellow. Pentads with
less than four checklists are either
shaded grey, species present, or have
a white dot, not recorded.
Overall, Spotted Flycatchers are
most abundant in the savanna
biome, northwestern South
Africa. Here the distribution
ought to be almost continuous.
There are scattered records
along the coast and in central
South Africa, many of which are
at isolated patches of trees.
October sees the arrival of the
first Spotted Flycatchers,
particularly the northern part
of southern Africa. These
might be adults which lost
their nests early in the
breeding season, and started
to migrate early.
November is the month of bulk
arrival in southern Africa.
There are few records from the
The distributions in the
summer months, December,
January and February are
almost identical. We combined
them into this single map.
Spotted Flycatchers are mostly
in northeastern South Africa.
The scattered records elsewhere
show that this species can pop
up anywhere in South Africa
where there is suitable habitat.
Pentads shaded the
background turquoise in this
map do not have a full
protocol checklist for any of
the months December,
January and February.
Lots more fieldwork is needed in mid-
summer to complete this distribution
map, which ought to be almost
continuous in the savanna biome.
Departure back to the
breeding grounds results in
the distribution map for
March showing only
There are not many Spotted
Flycatchers in the region in
April. The bulk of the
population is already on its
During the winter months the Spotted
Flycatcher migrates to the Northern
Hemisphere. It was recorded in few,
scattered areas of South Africa, mainly
in the northern regions.
Action points for atlasers
1. In the monthly maps, pentads are shown in colour if
there are four checklists for the month. It is amazing how
many pentads have at least four checklists per month.
Well done, Team SABAP2.
2. Here is a new target, a new challenge. Try to get four full-
protocol checklists per pentad per MONTH!
3. But we still need just one checklist per month in many
4. Every checklist helps towards every plot. This includes
both those with Spotted Flycatchers recorded and those
without Spotted Flycatchers recorded.
5. Summer checklists establish distribution, autumn and
spring checklists describes patterns of departure and
arrival, and winter checklists confirm absence.
Other things you can do …
1. You can read the text for Spotted Flycatcher which
was in the first bird atlas (SABAP1) by going to
2. You can upload photos of Spotted Flycatchers to the
BirdPix section of the ADU Virtual Museum from
anywhere in Africa. Here are the instructions how to
3. You can look at the African distribution map from
BirdPix for the Spotted Flycatcher – lots of
information still needed!