In Our Backyard Environment

The Red-breasted Flycatcher, is a small but feisty visitor to Delhi

A male Red-breasted Flycatcher

A male Red-breasted Flycatcher   | Photo Credit: Chinmoy Banerjee

The Red-breasted Flycatcher is a cute little furball, but also a magnificent hunter

The Red-breasted Flycatcher’s scientific name Ficedula parva, tells us that it is a small (parva) fig-eating bird (Ficedula). This small (11-12 cm) passerine bird of the Old World Flycatcher family therefore, can be found occasionally feeding on figs (banyan, peepal) in our urban gardens.

The bird remains quite silent in winters, but often gives itself away with its rattling ‘zrrt, zrrt’ calls, echoing in our backyards and other forest scrub patches of the city.

It is a distinct small flycatcher — males have a reddish-orange throat that extends till the upper breast, whereas the females are overall brown. Both have creamy-white underparts. Males possess a certain grey cast to crown and face, which the female lacks, but both sexes have white sides to the long blackish tail, which they often cock while perched. Another characteristic feature in this bird, is that its wing-tips are downward drooping while it is perched. (Wing tips do not generally droop and are well in-sync with the flanks.)

It is often very difficult to tell males from females for up to the first three years, as the males only develop the red colour on their throat and breast in their second or third year. Until then, they resemble females. Their wings are notably brown, with a prominent white eye-ring.

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The bird breeds from spring to summer, in the deciduous mixed forests of Eastern Europe and across Central Asia. In winter months (September to March mostly), it migrates to forests, woodlands, orchards, parks, and roadside trees of the Indian Subcontinent.

These belong to the Old World Flycatcher family under the order Passeriforms (perching birds). They can be distinguished from other orders by the arrangement of their toes — three pointing forward and one backward, a design that helps them to cling onto branches efficiently.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher prefers low, open perches in trees that serve as vantage points. From here, it makes circular flights in pursuit of insects, and mostly prefers to return to the same perch.

Its hunting prowess makes me want to stand still and observe the spectacle unravelling before my eyes. Thanks to its pointed black bill (beak), the bird is quite an aerial insectivore, dashing and swooping in on insects in flight every now and then, as well as on unfortunate caterpillars in foliage. The wide array of insects beetles, butterflies, damselflies and invertebrates like spiders found in our region serves as a sumptuous buffet of sorts for the little fur ball.

Unless disturbed greatly, the Red-breasted Flycatcher may settle comfortably in certain areas protecting its territory from other similar-sized birds like Common Stonechat and sometimes Indian Robin in the vicinity.

It brings me immense joy when friends (not birdwatchers!) tell me about their experience with this bird, either in their own gardens, or in areas like Hauz Khas Fort, Deer Park, Vasant Kunj and several other areas in the city!

The writer is the founder of NINOX - Owl About Nature, a nature-awareness initiative. He is the Delhi-NCR reviewer for Ebird, a Cornell University initiative, monitoring rare sightings of birds. He formerly led a programme of WWF India

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 9:22:44 PM |

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