Record-breaking breeding season for Pied Flycatchers

Male Pied Flycatcher taken by Wild Intrigue from their photography hide here at Haweswater

These amber-listed bird spends spring and summer breeding in the UK before returning to West Africa during our winter. Although small, the males have striking black and white plumage and the females are a more subtle brown and white.

Despite national declines and pressures along their migratory route, Pied Flycatchers have had a record-breaking breeding season at a number of RSPB nature reserves and we’re proud to be one of them here at Haweswater.

Female Pied Flycatcher taken by Wild Intrigue from their photography hide here at Haweswater

Like many other migratory bird species, Pied Flycatchers are facing complex challenges both in breeding and wintering areas, while increased frequency of weather events linked to climate change can cause issues both on migration and here in the UK.

Although further science and monitoring is needed to help understand and address the challenges they face, the birds have thankfully flourished in RSPB managed woodlands during spring 2023, including here at Haweswater, which we manage in partnership with landowner United Utilities.

What’s this season been like at Haweswater?

We’ve celebrated the highest number of Pied Flycatchers recorded in 10 years. In 2023, 29 singing males were recorded which suggests a total population of 50 to 60 pairs across the site.

I’ve been monitoring Pied Flycatchers in the ancient woodlands of Haweswater for many years. Their population here has always been pretty steady which has been really encouraging for us.”

“This summer we had the best number in 10 years. Given that these birds come all the way from West Africa in Spring to breed here in the Lake District, it’s always a joy to see them back in the forests of Haweswater and especially when their numbers are so good.

The conservation efforts of our staff and volunteers across our woodland nature reserves is nothing short of amazing and is likely to benefit a range of species alongside Pied Flycatchers.”

– Spike, RSPB Warden at Haweswater

Spike carries out point counts each year, where he visits 40 locations across the site (the same points visited each year for comparison), to count the number of male Pied Flycatchers singing. Males sing during the breeding season to defend their territories and to attract a mate (small birds can often be tricky to see, especially in dense habitats like woodlands, so counting individual males singing is a common way to record the populations of lots of species of birds). By counting the number of males singing at the fixed points, he can then extrapolate across the site (ie where all the suitable habitat for the species is), to give an estimate of the numbers of pairs. So it’s estimated that there are 50-60 pairs of Pied Flycatchers across the suitable woodlands here.

A stunning male Pied Flycatcher, taken by Wild Intrigue from their photography hide

We also have 15 Pied Flycatcher nestboxes in one area of woodland that are monitored by our partners at Wild Intrigue. There were three pairs of Pied Flycatchers using the boxes this year, and they fledged six, six and seven chicks!

“While these positive interventions are making a difference at sites like Haweswater, we mustn’t forget that like other migratory species, these birds are being affected by climate change along their migratory routes. Therefore, we must continue to look beyond our nature reserves to address the national decline of Pied flycatchers so that they can thrive again in woodlands across Britain.”

– Spike

Monitoring Pied Flycatcher populations is hugely important, especially as local weather can negatively impact on their breeding success. Providing good quality habitat, including a place to nest, will likely become even more critical as climate change continues to impact our weather here in the UK.

When can I see them?

At this time of year, they’re over in West Africa, so you can’t spot them at Haweswater at the moment. They’ll be back in spring in the woodlands of Naddle Forest and in Swindale for you to see and hear them, and you even have a chance to photograph them from Wild Intrigue’s specially built Pied Flycatcher Photography Hide.

What’s happening on other RSPB reserves?

In Staffordshire, the number of Pied Flycatchers occupying nest boxes at RSPB Coombes Valley and Consall Woods in 2023 was also a record year, with 66 birds counted.

Meanwhile, in Wales, the RSPB are working with volunteers to provide nest boxes for the species, while Highland Cattle grazing is being used to create the right habitat conditions in the Celtic Rainforest. Pied flycatchers can also be found at Lake Vyrnwy, in Powys, and up in Scotland, a project is underway to boost numbers at RSPB Wood of Cree.

Discover more about the work of the RSPB and United Utilities at Haweswater here: wildhaweswater.co.uk

Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for updates.

– Blog by Annabel Rushton, RSPB Visitor Experience Manager at Haweswater

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