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Old World flycatcher

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

See text

The Old World flycatchers are a large family, the Muscicapidae, of small passerine birds restricted to the Old World (Europe, Africa and Asia), with the exception of several vagrants and two species, bluethroat (Luscinia svecica) and northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), found also in North America. These are mainly small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing. The family is relatively large and includes 351 species which are divided into 54 genera.


The name Muscicapa for the family was introduced by the Scottish naturalist John Fleming in 1822.[1][2] The word had earlier been used for the genus Muscicapa by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[3] Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca meaning a fly and capere to catch.[4][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.[13][14]


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 the thrush family Turdidae.[15] Subsequent molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that the species in these four genera are more closely related to species in Muscicapidae.[16][17] As a consequence, these four genera are now placed here.[13][18] In contrast, the genus Cochoa which was previously placed in Muscicapidae has been shown to belong in Turdidae.[16][17]

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.[17][19] 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.[20]

Madagascar magpie-robin Copsychus albospecularis pica
Silverbird, monotypic genus Empidornis
Tickell's blue flycatcher, genus Cyornis
Amber mountain rock thrush Monticola sharpei erythronotus
European stonechat Saxicola torquatus
Cyprus wheatear Oenanthe cypriaca

The International Ornithologists' Union recognises 351 species and divides the family into 54 genera. Subdivisions have been proposed by Sangster et al (2010).[13][17] For a complete list of species, see "List of Old World flycatcher species".

Family Muscicapidae

The cladogram below is based on a molecular phylogenetic study of the family by Min Zhao and collaborators that was published in 2023. Some regions of the phylogenetic tree were not strongly supported by the sequence data.[25] Both the genera included and the number of species in each genera are taken from the list of birds maintained by Frank Gill, Pamela Rasmussen and David Donsker on behalf of the International Ornithological Committee (IOC).[13]


Alethe – alethes (2 species)

Cercotrichas – scrub robins (c. 5 species) Zhao et al. (2023) resurrect genus Tychaedon

Cercotrichas – scrub robins (c. 5 species)

Copsychus – magpie-robins, sharmas (13 species)


Vauriella goodfellowi – slaty-backed jungle flycatcher (position uncertain)

Agricola – flycatchers (2 species)

Fraseria – flycatchers (8 species)

Melaenornis – flycatchers (7 species)

Namibornis – herero chat

Empidornis – silverbird

Sigelus – fiscal flycatcher

Bradornis – flycatchers (6 species)

Muscicapa – flycatchers (17 species) & Humblotia – Humblot's flycatcher


Leucoptilon – white-tailed flycatcher

Sholicola – blue robins (2 species)

Niltava – niltavas (7 species)

Cyanoptila – flycatchers (2 species)

Eumyias – flycatchers (6 species)

Anthipes – flycatchers (2 species)

Cyornis – blue flycatchers, jungle flycatchers (36 species) many taxa unsampled


Erithacus – European robin

Swynnertonia – Swynnerton's robin

Pogonocichla – white-starred robin

Stiphrornis – forest robin (position uncertain)

Cossyphicula – robin-chats (2 species)

Chamaetylas – alethes (4 species)

Cossypha - robin-chats (8 species)

Cossypha cyanocampter – blue-shouldered robin-chat (position uncertain)

Cichladusa – palm thrushes (3 species)

Xenocopsychus – Angola cave chat

Dessonornis – robin-chats, ground robins (4 species)

Sheppardia – akalats (11 species)


Irania – white-throated robin

Luscinia – nightingales, redstart, bluethroat (4 species)

Calliope – rubythroats (5 species)

Enicurus – forktails (8 species)

Cinclidium – blue-fronted robin

Myophonus – whistling thrushes (9 species)

Myiomela – robins (3 species)

Heinrichia – great shortwing

Vauriella – jungle flycatchers (3 species) & LeonardinaBagobo babbler

Brachypteryx – shortwings (6 species)

Larvivora – robins (6 species)

Ficedula – flycatchers (34 species)

Tarsiger – bush robins, bluetails (6 species)

Heteroxenicus – Gould's shortwing

Phoenicurus – redstarts (14 species)

Monticola – rock thrushes (13 species)

Saxicola – bush chats, stonechats (15 species)

Campicoloides – buff-streaked chat

Emarginata – chats (3 species)

Pinarochroa – moorland chat

Myrmecocichla – chats (8 species) & Thamnolaea – cliff chats (2 species)

Oenanthe – wheatears (32 species)


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.[26] Many species are dull brown in colour, but the plumage of some can be much brighter, especially in the males.[27] Most have broad, flattened bills suited to catching insects in flight, although the few ground-foraging species typically have finer bills.[28]

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.[28]

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.[28]


  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.[21][22]
  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).[22][24]


  1. ^ Fleming, John (1822). The philosophy of zoology; or a general view of the structure, functions, and classification of animals. Volume 2. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: Hurst, Robinson & Co. p. 240.
  2. ^ Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History Issue 222. p. 116. hdl:2246/830.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, United Kingdom: Christopher Helm. p. 260. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ musca, capere. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  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). Vol. 1. Berlin: R. Friedländer & Sohn. p. 469.
  7. ^ Taylor, B. (2020). "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. doi:10.2173/bow.muscic3.01. S2CID 216288554. 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. hdl:2246/3994.
  9. ^ Mayr, E.; Greenway, J.C. Jr. (1956). "Sequence of passerine families (Aves)". Breviora. 58. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard: 1–11.
  10. ^ Mayr, E.; William, C.G., eds. (1986). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 11. Vol. 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. ^ a b c d Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2023). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". IOC World Bird List Version 13.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 28 November 2023.
  14. ^ 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. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-11-18. Retrieved 2016-07-08.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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 (2): 386–394. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00191-X. PMID 14715230.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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. S2CID 85963319.
  20. ^ 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 (Pt B): 618–625. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.09.026. PMID 26475615.
  21. ^ 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. PMID 27988667.
  22. ^ a b Zuccon, D. (2011). "Taxonomic notes on some Muscicapidae". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 131 (3): 196–199.
  23. ^ 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 (1): 31. Bibcode:2017BMCEE..17...31R. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0882-6. PMC 5259981. PMID 28114902.
  24. ^ Vigors, Nicholas Aylward (1825). "Cossyphina". Zoological Journal. 2: 395.
  25. ^ Zhao, M.; Gordon Burleigh, J.; Olsson, U.; Alström, P.; Kimball, R.T. (2023). "A near-complete and time-calibrated phylogeny of the Old World flycatchers, robins and chats (Aves, Muscicapidae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 178: 107646. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2022.107646. PMID 36265831.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ "Old World Flycatchers Muscicapidae". artfullbirds.com. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  28. ^ a b c Perrins, C. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 194–195. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.

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