Fiscal Flycatcher (Melaenornis silens)

Cover image by Michael Brooks – Citrusdal, Western Cape – BirdPix 4619

Identification

The Fiscal Flycatcher is smaller (17–20cm) and less aggressive bird than its shrike look-alike – the Common Fiscal – despite being similar in many other attributes such as perching and hunting habits. An easy way to distinguish the Fiscal Flycatcher from the Common Fiscal is by the Common Fiscal’s stronger hook on the bill and its white, V-shaped shoulder markings.

Male and female Fiscal Flycatchers look a little different from one another. Males have a black head and back with white underparts and a white wing marking about midway down the wing.

Fiscal Flycatcher (male): BirdPix 8398 – Gregg & Desire Darling, St. Francis Bay, Eastern Cape, 22 June 2014. Fiscal Flycatcher (female): BirdPix 17733 – 23 May 2015.

Females and juveniles are similar in appearance to the males but are more blackish-brown or greyish-brown in colour; juveniles are often duller and more mottled than females. Fiscal Flycatchers have black eyes, bill, feet and legs.

Juvenile Fiscal Flycatchers – Left: BirdPix 116658 – Johan & Estelle van Rooyen, Vermaaklikheid, Western Cape, 20 January 2017. Right: BirdPix 47066 – Tony Archer, Klerksdorp, North West, 10 December 2017.

Distribution

The Fiscal Flycatcher is endemic to southern Africa. It occurs from south-eastern Botswana and southern Mozambique to Swaziland and most of South Africa.

SABAP2 distribution map for Fiscal Flycatcher, downloaded on 10 November 2022. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

Habitat

It generally favours open habitats with scattered trees or bushes, such as moist and semi-arid grasslands, woodlands, and savannas. It is also found in fynbos and Nama Karoo scrubland. It is most common in ecotones between two habitats; one with fairly dense thicket used for nesting and another with large patches of open ground for foraging.

Fiscal Shrikes use trees, bushes, and fenceposts as perches to scan for prey (insects).

Perched on a thorn tree – BirdPix 21777 – Dewald du Plessis, Heuningneskloof, Northern Cape, 07 June 2007.
A fencepost makes for a great perch! – BirdPix 88449 – Keir Lynch, Bredasdorp, Western Cape, 16 August 2019.

Behaviour

The Fiscal Flycatcher mainly eats small insects supplemented with fruit. It does most of its foraging from a high perch, pouncing on prey on the ground or occasionally hawking insects from the air.

Grubs up! – BirdPix 112541 – Andrew Keys, Hartebeespoort, North West, 12 May 2020.

Breeding season starts in July and peaks from October to December. The female constructs the bulky cup-shaped nest which is made from stems of dry grass and combined with other plants, such as everlastings (Helichrysum) and slangbos (Stoebe). In urban areas items like string and bits of rags will also be used for the nest.

The female lays 2-4 eggs, which she incubates for about 13-16 days. During this time, the male brings food for the female.

Chicks in the nest – BirdPix 23880 – Dewald du Plessis, Doornkloof, Lindley, Free State Province, 21 November 2009.

Fiscal Flycatchers are important insectivores; together with other bird species they help control ant, termite, moths, mealy bugs and other ‘pest’ species.

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Fiskaalvlieëvanger (Afrikaans); Icola (Xhosa); Klauwiervliegenvanger (Dutch); Gobemouche fiscal (French); Würgerschnäpper (German).

Recommended citation format: Loftie-Eaton M and Daniel KA 2022. Fiscal Flycatcher Melaenornis silens. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2022/11/15/fiscal-flycatcher-melaenornis-silens/

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.