Old World flycatcher

The Old World flycatchers are a large family, the Muscicapidae, of small passerine birds mostly restricted to the Old World (Europe, Africa and Asia). These are mainly small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing. The family includes 324 species and is divided into 51 genera.[1]

Old World flycatchers
White-eyed slaty flycatcher
White-eyed slaty flycatcher,
(Melaenornis fischeri)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Muscicapoidea
Family: Muscicapidae
Fleming J., 1822

See text


The name Muscicapa for the family was introduced by the Scottish naturalist John Fleming in 1822.[2][3] The word had earlier been used for the genus Muscicapa by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[4] Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca meaning a fly and capere to catch.[5]

In 1910 the German ornithologist Ernst Hartert found it impossible to define boundaries between the three families Muscicapidae, Sylviidae (Old World warblers) and Turdidae (thrushes). He therefore treated them as subfamilies of an extended flycatcher family that also included Timaliidae (Old World babblers) and Monarchidae (Monarch flycatchers).[6][7] Forty years later a similar arrangement was adopted by the American ornithologists Ernst Mayr and Dean Amadon in an article published in 1951. Their large family Muscicapidae which they termed the "primitive insect eaters" contained 1460 species divided into eight subfamilies.[8] The use of the extended group was endorsed by a committee set up following the Eleventh International Ornithological Congress held in Basel in 1954.[9] Subsequent DNA–DNA hybridization studies by Charles Sibley and others showed that the subfamilies were not closely related to one another. As a result, the large group was broken up into a number of separate families,[10] although for a while most authorities continued to retain the thrushes in Muscicapidae.[11][12] In 1998 the American Ornithologists' Union chose to treat the thrushes as a separate family in the seventh edition of their Check-list of North American birds and subsequently most authors have followed their example.[1][13]


The appearance of these birds is very varied, but they mostly have weak songs and harsh calls. They are small to medium birds, ranging from 9 to 22 cm in length.[14] Many species are dull brown in colour, but the plumage of some can be much brighter, especially in the males.[15] Most have broad, flattened bills suited to catching insects in flight, although the few ground-foraging species typically have finer bills.[16]

Old World flycatchers live in almost every environment with a suitable supply of trees, from dense forest to open scrub, and even the montane woodland of the Himalayas. The more northerly species migrate south in winter, ensuring a continuous diet of insects.[16]

Depending on the species, their nests are either well-constructed cups placed in a tree or cliff ledge, or simply lining in a pre-existing tree hole. The hole-nesting species tend to lay larger clutches, with an average of eight eggs, rather than just two to five.[16]


The family formerly included fewer species. At the time of the publication of the third edition of Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World in 2003, the genera Myophonus, Alethe, Brachypteryx and Monticola were included in Turdidae.[17] Subsequent molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that the species in these four genera are more closely related to species in Muscicapidae.[18][19] As a consequence, these four genera are now placed here.[1][20] In contrast, the genus Cochoa which was previously placed in Muscicapidae has been shown to belong in Turdidae.[18][19]

Two large molecular phylogenetic studies of species within Muscicapidae published in 2010 showed that the genera Fraseria, Melaenornis and Muscicapa were non-monophyletic. The authors were unable to propose revised genera as not all the species were sampled and not all the nodes in their phylogenies were strongly supported.[19][21] A subsequent study published in 2016, that included 37 of the 42 Muscicapini species, confirmed that the genera were non-monophyletic and proposed a reorganised arrangement of the species with several new or resurrected genera.[22]

List of genera

Madagascar magpie-robin (Copsychus albospecularis pica) female
Madagascar magpie-robin Copsychus albospecularis pica
Silverbird in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Silverbird, monotypic genus Empidornis
Amber mountain rock thrush (Monticola sharpei erythronotus) male 2
Amber mountain rock thrush Monticola sharpei erythronotus
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) male, Beaulieu, Hampshire
European stonechat Saxicola torquatus

Muscicapid genera as listed by the International Ornithologists' Union with subdivisions proposed by George Sangster and colleagues in 2010:[19][1] For a complete list of species, see "List of Old World flycatcher species".

Family Muscicapidae


  1. ^ The ornithologist Dario Zuccon pointed out that when George Sangster and colleagues erected the name "Niltavinae" for the subfamily, they did not provide a description as required by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Sangster and colleagues subsequently published a description in 2016.[23][24]
  2. ^ Dario Zuccon has argued that the correct name for the African forest robins assemblage is Cossyphinae (type genus Cossypha Vigors, 1825) as the name predates Erithacinae (G.R. Gray, 1846).[24][26]


  1. ^ a b c d Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2016). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  2. ^ Fleming, John (1822). The philosophy of zoology; or a general view of the structure, functions, and classification of animals. Volume 2. Edinburgh: Hurst, Robinson & Co. p. 240.
  3. ^ Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History Issue 222. p. 116.
  4. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie; ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, espéces & leurs variétés. &c (in Latin and French). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1 p. 32, Vol. 2 p. 357.
  5. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, United Kingdom: Christopher Helm. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  6. ^ Hartert, Ernst (1910). Die Vögel der paläarktischen Fauna systematische Übersicht der in Europa, Nord-Asien und der Mittelmeerregion vorkommenden Vögel. Volume 1 (in German). Berlin: R. Friedländer & Sohn. p. 469.
  7. ^ Taylor, B. "Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 30 May 2016.(subscription required)
  8. ^ Mayr, E.; Amadon, D. (1951). A Classification of Recent Birds. American Museum Novitates, Number 1496. New York: American Museum of Natural History. pp. 17–19, 36–37.
  9. ^ Mayr, E.; Greenway, J.C. Jr. (1956). "Sequence of passerine families (Aves)". Breviora. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard. 58: 1–11.
  10. ^ Mayr, E.; William, C.G., eds. (1986). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 11. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. pp. v–vi.
  11. ^ Sibley, C.G.; Monroe, B.L. (1993). A Supplement to Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-05549-8.
  12. ^ Clement, P.; Hathway, R. (2000). Helm Identification Guides: Thrushes. London: Christopher Helm. p. 28. ISBN 978-07136-3940-7.
  13. ^ Committee on Classification and Nomenclature (1998). Check-list of North American birds (PDF) (7th ed.). Washington D.C.: American Ornithologists' Union. p. 495. ISBN 1-891276-00-X.
  14. ^ del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-96553-06-X.
  15. ^ "Old World Flycatchers Muscicapidae". artfullbirds.com. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  16. ^ a b c Perrins, C. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  17. ^ Dickinson, E.C., ed. (2003). The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World (3rd ed.). London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-0-7136-6536-9.
  18. ^ a b Voelker, G.; Spellman, G.M. (2004). "Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA evidence of polyphyly in the avian superfamily Muscicapoidea". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 30: 386–394. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00191-X.
  19. ^ a b c d Sangster, G.; Alström, P.; Forsmark, E.; Olsson, U. (2010). "Multi-locus phylogenetic analysis of Old World chats and flycatchers reveals extensive paraphyly at family, subfamily and genus level (Aves: Muscicapidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 57 (1): 380–392. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.07.008. PMID 20656044.
  20. ^ Dickinson, E.C.; Christidis, L., eds. (2014). The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 2, Passerines (4th ed.). Eastbourne, U.K.: Aves Press. pp. 584, 598, 601, 607. ISBN 978-0-9568611-2-2.
  21. ^ Zuccon, D.; Ericson, P.G.P. (2010). "A multi-gene phylogeny disentangles the chat-flycatcher complex (Aves: Muscicapidae)". Zoologica Scripta. 39 (3): 213–224. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2010.00423.x.
  22. ^ Voelker, G.; Huntley, J.W.; Peñalba, J.V.; Bowie, R.C.K. (2016). "Resolving taxonomic uncertainty and historical biogeographic patterns in Muscicapa flycatchers and their allies". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 94: 618–625. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.09.026. PMID 26475615.
  23. ^ a b Sangster, G.; Alström, P.; Forsmark, Émile; Olsson, U. (2016). "Niltavinae, a new taxon of Old World flycatchers (Aves: Muscicapidae)". Zootaxa. 4196 (3): 428–429. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4196.3.7.
  24. ^ a b Zuccon, D. (2011). "Taxonomic notes on some Muscicapidae". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 131 (3): 196–199.
  25. ^ Robin, V.V.; Vishnudas, C. K.; Gupta, Pooja; Rheindt, Frank E.; Hooper, Daniel M.; Ramakrishnan, Uma; Reddy, Sushma (2017). "Two new genera of songbirds represent endemic radiations from the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats, India". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 17. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0882-6.
  26. ^ Vigors, Nicholas Aylward (1825). "Cossyphina". Zoological Journal. 2: 395.

Further reading

External links

Angolan cave chat

The Angolan cave chat (Cossypha ansorgei) is a small passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. It used to be the sole member of the monotypic genus Xenocopsychus but was moved to Cossypha based on the results of a molecular phylogenetic study published in 2010. It occurs locally from western Angola to marginally south of the Kunene River in northern Namibia. Its natural habitat is rocky places in moist to dry savanna. It was previously described as being Near threatened, but has since been downgraded to Least concerned.

Black wheatear

The black wheatear (Oenanthe leucura) is a wheatear, a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family, Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher of the Muscicapidae.

This large 16–18 cm long wheatear breeds on cliffs and rocky slopes in western north Africa and Iberia. It is largely resident and nests in crevices in rocks laying 3-6 eggs.

The male of this species is all black except a white rump and mainly white tail. The female is similar, but dark brown rather than black.

The similar white-crowned wheatear, Oenanthe leucopyga, also breeds in the African part of the black wheatear's range, but the black wheatear has a black inverted "T" on its white tail, whereas white-crowned has only a black centre to its tail. The black wheatear never has a white crown, but young white-crowned wheatears also lack this feature.

The food of this wheatear is mainly insects. It has a loud thrush-like song.

Blue-and-white flycatcher

The blue-and-white flycatcher (Cyanoptila cyanomelana) is a migratory songbird in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. The species is also known as the Japanese flycatcher. It breeds in Japan, Korea, and in parts of north eastern China and far eastern Russia. It winters in South East Asia, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo. This species has been recorded as a vagrant from the Sinharaja Rainforest in Sri Lanka in 2014.

Blue rock thrush

The blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius) is a species of chat. This thrush-like Old World flycatcher was formerly placed in the family Turdidae. It breeds in southern Europe, northwest Africa, and from central Asia to northern China and Malaysia. The blue rock thrush is the official national bird of Malta and was shown on the Lm 1 coins that were part of the country's former currency.

Brown-chested jungle flycatcher

The brown-chested jungle flycatcher (Cyornis brunneatus) is a species of bird in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.

It is found in Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Tibet.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests.

It is threatened by habitat loss.

This species was previously placed in the genus Rhinomyias but was moved to Cyornis based on the results of a 2010 molecular phylogenetic study.


Chamaetylas is a genus of small, mainly insectivorous birds in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae that are native to sub-Saharan Africa.

The genus was introduced by the German ornithologist Ferdinand Heine in 1860. Species in the genus were previously assigned to the genus Alethe which was included in the thrush family Turdidae. In 2010 two separate molecular phylogenetic studies found that Alethe was polyphyletic and that the genus was more closely related to the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.The genus contains four species:

Red-throated alethe, Chamaetylas poliophrys

White-chested alethe, Chamaetylas fuelleborni

Brown-chested alethe, Chamaetylas poliocephala

Thyolo alethe, Chamaetylas choloensis

European stonechat

The European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a subspecies of the common stonechat. Long considered a member of the thrush family, Turdidae, genetic evidence has placed it and its relatives in the Old World flycatcher family, Muscicapidae.


The forktails are small insectivorous birds in the genus Enicurus. They were formerly in the thrush family, Turdidae, but are more often now treated as part of the Old World flycatcher family, Muscicapidae. Their name derives from their long forked tail.These are southeast Asian forest species principally associated with mountain forests and streams. Most nest in rock crevices, laying 2–4 eggs.

Hooded wheatear

The hooded wheatear (Oenanthe monacha) is a wheatear, a small insectivorous passerine that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae.

This 15.5–17 cm long bird is a resident breeder in unvegetated desert from eastern Egypt through the Arabian peninsula used to be in UAE and Oman a scarce breeder in Hajar mountains to Iran and Pakistan. It occurs annually in Cyprus on passage. The nest is built in a rock crevice, and 3-6 eggs is the normal clutch.

In summer the male hooded wheatear is a white and black bird. The white crown and belly contrast with the black face, back and throat. The tail and rump are white with black central tail feathers.

The female is brown, becoming somewhat paler below. The tail pattern is similar to the male's, but the ground colour is buff rather than white.

Hooded wheatear feeds on insects, often taken in the air. Its call is a whistled vit, and the song is a harsh chattering.


The magpie-robins or shamas (from shama, Bengali and Hindi for C. malabaricus) are medium-sized insectivorous birds (some also eat berries and other fruit) in the genus Copsychus. They were formerly in the thrush family Turdidae, but are now treated as part of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. They are garden and forest dwelling species found in Africa and Asia.

The genus Copsychus was introduced by the German naturalist Johann Georg Wagler in 1827. The type species was subsequently designated as the oriental magpie-robin. The name Copsychus is from the Ancient Greek kopsukhos or kopsikhos for a "blackbird".The genus contains 12 species:

Indian robin (Copsychus fulicatus)

Oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis)

Rufous-tailed shama (Copsychus pyrropygus)

Madagascan magpie-robin (Copsychus albospecularis)

Seychelles magpie-robin (Copsychus sechellarum)

Philippine magpie-robin (Copsychus mindanensis)

White-rumped shama (Copsychus malabaricus)

Andaman shama (Copsychus albiventris)

White-crowned shama (Copsychus stricklandii)

White-browed shama, (Copsychus luzoniensis)

White-vented shama, (Copsychus niger)

Black shama, (Copsychus cebuensis)The Seychelles magpie-robin is one of the most endangered birds in the world, with a population of less than 250, although this is a notable increase from just 16 in 1970.

Marico flycatcher

The Marico flycatcher or Mariqua flycatcher (Melaenornis mariquensis) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae that is found in areas of southern Africa.


Niltava (from niltau, Nepali for N. sundara) is a genus of passerine birds in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.

The genus contains the following six species:

Fujian niltava (Niltava davidi)

Rufous-bellied niltava (Niltava sundara)

Rufous-vented niltava (Niltava sumatrana)

Vivid niltava (Niltava vivida)

Large niltava (Niltava grandis)

Small niltava (Niltava macgrigoriae)

Pale flycatcher

The pale flycatcher (Melaenornis pallidus) is a passerine bird of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae, found in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Palm thrush

The palm thrushes are medium-sized insectivorous birds in the genus Cichladusa. They were formerly in the thrush family Turdidae, but are now treated as part of the Old World flycatcher Muscicapidae.

These are tropical African species which nest in palm trees or buildings.

The genus includes the following species:

Collared palm thrush, Cichladusa arquata

Rufous-tailed palm thrush, Cichladusa ruficauda

Spotted palm thrush, Cichladusa guttata


Redstarts are a group of small Old World birds. They were formerly classified in the thrush family (Turdidae), but are now known to be part of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. They are currently treated in four genera, the true redstarts Phoenicurus, the closely related genera Chaimarrornis and Rhyacornis, and one species in the less closely related genus Luscinia.

These are insectivorous ground feeding birds, most of which have the red tail which gives the group its name; "start" is the modern English reflex of Middle English stert, Old English steort, tail of an animal. Most species are migratory, with northern species being long-distance migrants and more southerly species often being altitudinal migrants breeding at high altitude and moving lower down in winter.They are small insectivores, the males mostly brightly coloured in various combinations of red, blue, white, and black, the females light brown with a red tail. Recent genetic studies have shown that the genus Phoenicurus is not monophyletic, but may be made so by the inclusion of Chaimarrornis and Rhyacornis within Phoenicurus; this conclusion is yet to be taken up by the International Ornithological Congress.The New World redstarts in the genera Setophaga and Myioborus are not closely related; they are New World warblers in the family Parulidae. Members of the latter genus, with extensive white and no red in their tails, are now more often called "whitestarts".

Verditer flycatcher

The verditer flycatcher (Eumyias thalassinus) is an Old World flycatcher It is found from the Himalayas through Southeast Asia to Sumatra. This species is named after its distinctive shade of copper-sulphate blue and has a dark patch between the eyes and above the bill base. The adult males are intense blue on all areas of the body, except for the black eye-patch and grey vent. Adult females and sub-adults are lighter blue.

The verditer flycatcher is also interesting among the flycatchers in that they forage above the canopy level and perching on electric wires or exposed tree top branches.

This species was earlier placed in the genus Muscicapa and it has been suggested that it is closer to the Niltava flycatchers.

White-capped redstart

The white-capped redstart or white-capped water redstart (Phoenicurus leucocephalus) is a passerine bird of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.

White-gorgeted flycatcher

The white-gorgeted flycatcher (Anthipes monileger) is a species of passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family.

It is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. It was formerly placed in the genus Ficedula.

White-tailed robin

The white-tailed robin (Myiomela leucura) is an Old World flycatcher in the family Muscicapidae. It ranges across the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent and adjacent areas of Southeast Asia. It is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest.


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