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 322 species and is divided into 50 genera.
The name Muscicapa for the family was introduced by the Scottish naturalist John Fleming in 1822. The word had earlier been used for the genus Muscicapa by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760. Muscicapa comes from the Latin musca meaning a fly and capere to catch.
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. Many species are dull brown in colour, but the plumage of some can be much brighter, especially in the males. Most have broad, flattened bills suited to catching insects in flight, although the few ground-foraging species typically have finer bills.
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.
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.
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. Subsequent molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that the species in these four genera are more closely related to species in Muscicapidae. As a consequence, these four genera are now placed here. In contrast, the genus Cochoa which was previously placed in Muscicapidae has been shown to belong in Turdidae.
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. 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.
List of genera
Muscicapid genera as listed by the International Ornithologists' Union with subdivisions proposed by George Sangster and colleagues in 2010:
- Subfamily Muscicapinae (Fleming, 1822)
- Tribe Copsychini (Sundevall, 1872)
- Cercotrichas - scrub robins
- Copsychus - magpie-robins or shamas
- Tribe Muscicapini (Fleming, 1822)
- Fraseria - forest flycatchers
- Myioparus - tit-flycatchers
- Empidornis - single species: silverbird
- Tribe Copsychini (Sundevall, 1872)
- Subfamily Niltavinae (Sangster, Alström, Forsmark and Olsson, 2010)
- Subfamily Erithacinae (G.R. Gray, 1846) - African forest robin assemblage
- Erithacus - single species: European robin
- Cossyphicula - single species: white-bellied robin-chat
- Swynnertonia - single species: Swynnerton's robin
- Pogonocichla - single species: white-starred robin
- Stiphrornis - single species: forest robin
- Sheppardia - akalats
- Cichladusa - palm thrushes
- Subfamily Saxicolinae (Vigors, 1825)
- Heinrichia - single species: great shortwing
- Leonardina - single species: Bagobo babbler
- Heteroxenicus - single species: Gould's shortwing
- Brachypteryx - shortwings
- Irania - single species: white-throated robin
- Enicurus - forktails
- Myophonus - whistling thrushes
- Cinclidium - single species: blue-fronted robin
- Ficedula - flycatchers
- Muscicapella - single species: pygmy flycatcher
- Phoenicurus - redstarts
- Monticola - rock thrushes
- Saxicola - stonechats and chats
- Campicoloides - single species: buff-streaked chat
- Pinarochroa - single species: moorland chat
- Thamnolaea - cliff chats
- Oenanthe - wheatears
- Subfamily not determined
- Pinarornis - single species: boulder chat
- Namibornis - single species: Herero chat
- Humblotia - single species: Humblot's flycatcher