The European pied flycatcher is a small insectivorous bird that migrates through the Maltese islands in spring and autumn. It is a woodland bird found mostly in oak forests. It does not breed in the Maltese islands because of the lack of appropriate habitats. It winters in Africa south of the Sahara.
In Maltese it is known as żanżarell iswed.
Like other species of flycatcher, the pied flycatchers captures flying insects by sallying forth from a branch, but unlike the other species of flycatcher it also picks up insects and other arthropods from tree trunks, branches and from the ground. This spring I photographed one bird unsuccessfully trying to kill a yellow centipede by repeatedly hitting it against the ground. This method usually works well with softer bodied caterpillars which are also eaten especially at certain times of the year but did not with the tough-skinned centipede.
Studies have shown that the diet of the pied fly catcher consists mostly of ants, bees, wasps and beetles. The diet varies according to habit and time of the year.
The pied fly catcher is found throughout most of Europe. In most countries it is a common bird and it is estimated that three to seven million pairs breed within its range.
The nest is usually built in a hole in the trunk of an oak tree. It also breeds in appropriately designed nest boxes. Pied flycatchers have a very interesting mating system. The male sets up a territory to attract a female. Once a female enters his territory he courtships her and brings her food. He continues feeding her until she lays eggs and starts brooding them. Then he sets up another territory to attract another female. Once he successfully does this and the second female starts brooding her eggs he abandons her and returns to the first female to help her feed their nestlings. Only very rarely does a male take up a third female bird.
Two other species of flycatcher, the collared and the spotted are common migrants in the Maltese islands, while the red breasted is scarce and the semi-collared is very rare. The spotted flycatcher is the only fly catcher that breeds in Malta. The nests of this bird, known in Maltese as żanżarell tat-tikki, can be found in wooded areas such as Buskett, as well as in large gardens and cemeteries.
This article was published in The Times of Malta on 19 June 2014.