Collared Flycatcher hybrid

with Pied Flycatcher

by Dani Lopez Velasco

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During the last few years, a team of keen Spanish birders has visited the idyllic island of Cabrera, a small islet off Mayorca, in search of rarities. The weather conditions and landscape –as well as the “common” birds – are pretty different to those in most rarity hotspots in western Europe (but I guess similar to Linosa), and birding under blue and sunny skies amidst large falls of migrants is the norm here.

Based on the results of past ringing campaigns, where a number of firsts for Spain have been caught, including sugh megas as Ruppell’s Warbler or Semicollared Flycatcher, we decided to give a first try some springs ago, which ended up in Juan Sagardia, one of our team, finding another first for Spain, a stunning Cretzschmars Bunting. Following that, we´ve made several more 3 day trips, in late April and mid October, producing large numbers of common migrants (and Balearic Warbler is one of the most common birds in the island!), as well as plenty of good rarities including Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (first for Spain) and Hume´s Leaf Warbler (3rd for Spain), Little Bunting, Collared and R-b Flycathers, lots of Y-b Warblers, etc…

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We´ve come again this year, and on the first morning two days ago, a large fall of ficedula flycatchers took place. Amongst them, a classic female Collared Flycatcher – a rarity here and one of the first females to be identified in the field in Spain- was found and, most interesting, a male showing features of a hybrid Collared x Pied. Separating a hybrid from a male Iberian Piediberiae hereafter – and Atlas Flycatcherspeculigera hereafter- can be challenging or, in certain individuals, especially 2cy, almost impossible based on field marks, although the sound recordings of this individual, with a call very similar to that of a Collared, together with a couple of plumage features, point towards the bird being a hybrid.

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Interesting features of this bird include an all black tail (with an all black T6), hint of a near-complete neck collar (especially obvious in certain angles)- although note that some male iberiae and speculigera can show similar neck collars-, a relatively large white forehead patch and jet-black upperparts.

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All these features can be shown by both a hybrid and a pure speculigera/iberiae, although, given that the bird seems to be an adult, then the white primary patch is clearly smaller than on the most typical adult speculigera /iberiae (and the white forehead patch is also smaller than on a classic speculigera).

To compare: iberiae Pied Flycatcher

iberiae pied flycatcher Juan Sagardia first summer male

above: First summer male iberiae Pied Flycatcher

below apparent hybrid Collared X Pied Flycatcher

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Call is therefore essential to reach a positive ID, and the plaintive, straight, thin whistle, very similar to Collared, and unlike the typical contact call of Pied, should rule out speculigera and iberiae, thus indicating hybrid origin. A very interesting and educative flycatcher for sure!

I´d like to thank Jose Luis Copete, Andrea Corso, Brian Small, Magnus Hellstrom and Guillermo Rodriguez for their comments on this and other ficedula flycatchers.

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5 thoughts on “Collared Flycatcher hybrid

  1. Will Jones

    Hybrid Ficedula are notoriously difficult to identify, even males. I work with the hybrid-zone in Sweden and there we catch birds that in the field look and crucially sound as if they should be hybrids with mixed singing and calling, but when genotyped, they are pure Collareds. We also get the reverse with birds looking and sounding like pure Collared actually being hybrids. Therefore I would be very wary about calling this a hybrid without any DNA evidence. I’m sure the ‘Atlas Pied’ debacle a few years ago at Flamborough is still fresh in people’s minds.

    1. Grahame Walbridge

      Hi Will,
      I can imagine there being an issue when it comes to younger-aged (2nd/3rd Cal Yr) males but this bird is an adult, is it not? Have you caught similarly-plumaged (‘apparent’ hybrids) adults which have proven to be pure Collared’s with DNA evidence?

      1. Will Jones

        Yes I believe we have. I won’t go into any details because I expect that some of this will be published in due course. I would also point out how rare hybrids are. In most the the contact zone between Collards and Pieds the two species are segregated by habitat with Pieds being pushed to areas with higher densities of conifers. It’s only in a few areas such as Öland where the ground war is still going on due to the recent colonisation of Collards. We only encounter a few hybrids every year out of the many hundreds of birds we process.

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