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the web of life in southern Africa

Sigelus silens (Fiscal flycatcher) 

Fiskaalvlieëvanger [Afrikaans]; Icola [Xhosa]; Klauwiervliegenvanger [Dutch]; Gobemouche fiscal [French]; Würgerschnäpper [German]; Papa-moscas-fiscal [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Muscicapidae

Sigelus silens (Fiscal flycatcher)  Sigelus silens (Fiscal flycatcher) 
Fiscal flycatcher, South Africa. [photo Jim Scarff ©] Fiscal flycatcher, Karoo National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to southern Africa, occurring from south-eastern Botswana and the extreme south of Mozambique to Swaziland and South Africa. It generally favours open habitats with scattered trees or bushes to use as perches, such as moist and semi-arid grassland, fynbos, Nama Karoo, valley bushveld, scrub Acacia and kloof bush in highveld. 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.

Distribution of Fiscal flycatcher in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

  • Predators
  • Parasites
    • ticks (Hyaloma rufipes)

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Jacobin cuckoo.

Movements and migrations

Resident in most of areas of its distribution, although it only occurs in central Botswana in winter.


It mainly eats small insects supplemented with fruit, doing most of its foraging from a high perch, pouncing on prey on the ground and occasionally hawking prey aerially. It may occasionally be seen in large mixed-species foraging flocks, especially at termite alate emergences and where there are half asleep (torpid) ants on the ground.  The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Invertebrates
    • Insects
      • Hodotermes mossambicus (Northern harvester termite)
      • ants
      • grasshoppers (Orthoptera)
      • Imbrasia cytherea (Emperor pine moth)
    • earthworms
    • Hemiptera (bugs)
  • Plants
    • nectar of Aloe marlothii (Mountain aloe)
    • fruit
      • Euonymus (spindle tree)
      • Cotoneaster pannosus (cotoneaster)
      • Morus alba (Mulberry)
      • Halleria lucida (Tree-fuchsia)
      • Chrysanthemoides monilifera (Bushtick-berry)
  • Miscellaneous
    • porridge from dog bowl
    • bonemeal from bird feeder
    • fledgling Motacilla capensis (Cape wagtail)


  • The nest (see image below) is built solely by the female, consisting of a bulky, open cup built of stems of dry grass combined with other plants such as everlastings (Helichrysum) and slangbos (Stoebe), as well as string and rags if the nest is near urban areas. The interior is usually thickly lined with material such as soft plant down, feathers, rootlets, Galium tomentosum (Old man's beard), wool, fine grass and hair, in fact there is a record of a Fiscal flycatcher attempting to pluck hair from a person's head! It is typically placed in a thick forked branch, on a branch adjacent to a tree trunk, among dead aloe leaves, inside a dead stump or branch.
Sigelus silens (Fiscal flycatcher)  

Fiscal flycatcher nest with eggs, Christiana, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from about July-February, peaking around October-December.
  • It lays 2-4 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 13-16 days, all the while being fed by the male. It often leaves the nest for long periods, rendering it vulnerable to predation, in fact a Common fiscal was once recorded fighting with the Fiscal flycatchers.
  • The chicks are fed solely by the female, while the male takes little interest, leaving the nest after about 15-17 days. The fledglings are still fed by their parents after leaving the nest; strangely a Cape robin-chat was once found feeding beetle larvae to the fledglings, hiding when their parents approached.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.