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Stonechat {Birds of Europe}

Updated on November 11, 2015

Male Stonechat

Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by MPF
Originally posted to Flickr uploaded to Commons by MPF | Source


The Stonechat belongs to the Passeriformes order of birds and the family Turdidae {thrush} family within that order. { some ornithologists place them in the Muscicapidae through genetic evidence}.

The genus name of Saxicola derives from the Latin saxum=rock+ colere-todwell. The specific name rubicola derives from rubus -a bramble + colere to inhabit. it was formery referred to as Saxicola torquata.

In the UK they are placed on the Green list of conservation concern {no current concerns} ,as they are in Ireland. The UK population is estimated at 56,00 -59,000 pairs in summer, they are classed as Migrant /resident breeders. They are distributed in Eurasia and locally in Africa. They inhabit open country and scrub-land. { Source BTO}. 2014.

They are not a bird of conservation concern in Europe where the estimated population is between 18-46,million pairs. The populations vary from country to country and there follows a few selected examples. Austria between 4,500- 9,000 Breeding pairs {BP}, Belgium 2,500-4,700 BP, Croatia , 10,000, 15,000 BP. France, 400,000-1,600,000 BP. Germany 3,500-4,900 BP. Spain, 250,000-500,000,BP. Ukraine 26,000-38,000 BP .{ Source Birdlife} 2014.The Gaelic name for the bird is Clacharan, The Welsh, Clochdar y Cerrig,and the Irish Caislin Cloch.

American Yellow breasted chat

Uploaded to Commons via Kelson
Uploaded to Commons via Kelson | Source

What are Chats ?

Chats are a group of 'Old world' insectivorous birds , formerly {and sometimes still are} classified as members of the Thrush family,while others consider them to be in the family Muscicapidae 'Old World Flycatchers}. There are a large number of genera including the American Chats of the genus Granatellus of the Cardinal family Cardinalidae one bird the Yellow breasted Chat has the word chat in its name. The yellow breasted chat is a New World warbler and is placed in the genus Icteria. In the Parulidae family. There are also Australian Chats.

Our subject belongs to the genus Saxicola a genus of around 15 species of small Passrerine birds which include species like the Whinchat**,White browed bush chat, Canary Island Stonechat, Siberian Stonchat, Stejnegar's Stonechat, African Stonechat, Madagascan Stonechat,Reunion Stonechat,White tailed Stonechat, Red bush chat, Jerden's Bush Chat, Grey Bush chat, White bellied bushchat, and the European Stonechat the subject under review.

** This species has already been reviewed in this series.

As always we will commence with a description of the species under review.

Stonechat and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley. | Source

Description of Saxicola rubicola

The Stonechat is a very handsome,Robin sized bird,especially when adorned in its breeding plumage. The male has the whole of his feathers on the upper surface {excepting those of the upper-tail coverts-which are white}, a dull black fringed with tawny brown. The head from a line above the eye and throat are velvety black. The wings are and tail blackish brown.

The smaller wing coverts,the bases of the inner secondaries and sides of the neck,broadly white.The under-parts are a tawny rufous colour deepest on the breast and sides,almost white at centre of chest, but shading into buff on the abdomen. The bill and feet are ebony black, the iris is dark brown.

The female is altogether duller in colouring, the white wing patch smaller and the tail coverts reddish brown.

In winter the white on the sides of the neck becomes mottled with a tawny colour. The secondaries have broad tawny borders and either whitish or tawny tips.The tail feathers are also broadly bordered with buff. The ear coverts,chin and throat feathers are also slightly tipped on the fringe with tawny or white,and the upper part of the white neck patch is mottled with a tawny colour.

Courtesy of Joop Smit Standard YouTube License

General and historical information

Though so different from the Whinchat in pattern, this species resmbles it greatly in form and in its habits, it also frequents similar localities, wild heathery moor land,gorse-clad commons,uncultivated ground dotted with scrub and bramble,with here and there loose stones or bedded rocks,moss grown and venerable.

In such haunts the Stonechat breeds,and here he may be seen poised on the topmost spray of a flowering gorse with an ever restless tail,or darting from bush to bush with an undulating flight, or hovering,moth-like to seize some fluttering insect.

The song of the stonechat {see video above} is soft and low,somewhat irregular but rather pleasant to listen to it. It also has an alarm or scolding note which has been likened to sound produced by striking to flints together.

The Stonechat feeds on insects,their larvae,spiders,small worms and during the winter seeds. It also catches moths and butterflies on the wing. The flight of the species is short and undulating, the greatest efforts being made in pursuit of prey. When roosting or hopping, its tail is incessantly in motion.

The Stonechat seems to prefer concealment to flight when danger threatens,always seeking dense cover in the immediate neighbourhood, However, it sometimes reveals its whereabouts by uttering its alarm call.

It is an hardy bird and remains in the UK throughout the year, however, they do tend to make a partial migration in the autumn, leaving wilder open regions for the warmer more sheltered situations,not returning again until March of the following year. In very severe weather they have been known to enter gardens and approach quite close to cottages and houses.

In some districts the bird was referred to as the Stone chatterer from its habit of keeping up its chattering noise upon the stone on which it has perched. Ann Pratte in her book 'Native Songsters' 1853,remarks " It delights in sloping grounds where the briers and brambles and gorse are plentiful,and where the sunshine rests during a great part of the summer day. It seems the merriest and most agile of birds hopping about from one bush to another,as if seeking out something it cannot find. Now and then it may rest from its continuous movements and perching on top of a rock or stone, or on the extremity of some branch ,pours forth a melody which, though short,comes to us, as we lie on the greensward,as a chaunt in praise of summer and sunshine"

In winter the population is increased with birds arriving from continental Europe.

Male Stonechat

Originally posted on Flickr ,uploaded to Commons via Amada44.
Originally posted on Flickr ,uploaded to Commons via Amada44. | Source

Keeping wild birds was once a popular past time


Stonechat in captivity

In the days before it was made an offence to keep wild birds in captivity {with a few licensed exceptions} the hobby of bird keeping was popular both as aviary and as cage birds. Bird-catchers made a good living from their capture by selling them to bird enthusiasts and as food at markets.

As it is a part of our avian history,the following paragraphs reflect than time. Mr E P Staines,of Penge,an enthusiastic student of British cage birds gave Butler a Stonechat,and at the same time he was also brought a Whinchat,in September 1893. Butler reveals," I turned it out into the same aviary,and although I kept it for one year,it ultimately lost its life, a Rosa's parakeet breaking one of its legs at the mid-tarsal or so called knee joint. I caged the bird up separately ,after binding the limb up,but it only survived two days."

" In the aviary the Stonechat is gentle and extremely lively ,never quarrelling, but often obtaining a delicacy by superior activity. I have seen it seize a spider from under the very bill of a Wagtail and carry it half across the aviary, before the larger bird had solved the problem of how it had disappeared. It was also very expert at catching white butterflies on the wing, though frequently lost them through getting hold of their wings only."

" The Stonechat took to soft food without any hesitation and, many a time when the other inhabitants of the aviary were waiting for a fresh supply,I have seen him alight on the edge of the Parakeet's seen pan and swallow canary millet. Possibly it was in this manner he ot in the way of one of these treacherous birds,and so lost his life. Of Cockroaches ,he was inordinately fond,jumping into the beetle trap and flinging them out,or swallowing the smaller ones at a gulp. Sometimes he would snatch at a large female by one leg and fling the body away,following it up and again snapping at a second leg with the same action until he had completely dismembered the body,which would then be swallowed entirely. It is astonishing to see what large morsels can be gulped down by this little bird.! "

" This bird often sang in early spring, but as in the wild state, its warbling ceased entirely before the end of June. It was fairly tame, but would not actually take food from my fingers,always waiting until I dropped it,before attempting to secure it. Like all insectivorous birds , it was more keen on spiders than anything else,and they were the more it was pleased."

Courtesy of Paul Bunyard { Wildaboutimages} Standard YouTube license

Nest and eggs.

These birds tend to pair up in March and commence the construction of their nests at the end of the month or in early April. All attempts to find the location of the nest is met with by the Stonechat with alarm and resentment. The make it as confusing as possible. The two parent birds 'chacking' in different places,rarely in the same bush. The male also exclaims a queer double note in which it sounds somewhat like a Wheatear**.

The nest is frequently placed in some depression of the soil,partly, or wholly concealed by herbage,below a gorse bush, or shrub and it is difficult to locate even when you know it is there. It is always on the ground,or low in some bush such as the gorse. The construction is somewhat loose, but tolerably neat,dry grass or rootlets and a little moss being used for the outside. Finer grass,hair feathers and sometimes wool comprise the lining.

Anne Pratte in her book 'Our Native Songters',1883, Notes " Over the nest the male Stonechat hovers,singing ll the while his twittering song,and never entering it directly, but traversing different bushes to reach it., then emerging again so cautiously and winding so skilfully among the bushes, that when we see it with a worm in its mouth, that we know very well that the bush which it enters is not the bush which we may find its home,though probably it is not far off"

The eggs vary from 5-6 and are not unlike those of the Whinchat,but they are greener in tint,and , usually more heavily zoned and spotted with red brown. Some may be pale blue to greenish blue. They also resemble the eggs produced by the Spotted Flycatcher.

The eggs are incubated for 14-15 days mainly by the female. The young after a nourishing diet of insects are ready leave the nest in a further 14-15 days.

** This species has already been reviewed in this series

Female Stonechat in Malta

Originally posted to Flickr,uploaded to Commons by Snowmanradio
Originally posted to Flickr,uploaded to Commons by Snowmanradio | Source

Young birds

The nestling is spotted above and below and lacks the dark throat,or white patches of the adult bird,but in other respects resemble the winter plumage of the adults. The young after their first moult resemble the adult females.The moult is completed in November.

The parent birds get very anxious for their young when danger approaches and keep flying about in evident alarm as long as the danger threatens. They often seem to vanish from sight,dropping as it were from where they stood,and after flying close to the ground for some way rise up again to some other resting place.

When all is calm the young have been observed coming out from under a bush to be fed by their parents and then immediately retiring to their concealment.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello to you, could the bird you have mentioned be the Desert Chat known as the gibberbird , of the genus Ashbyinia There are other Chats too,in different genera r part of the world. Best wishes to you.

    • agvulpes profile image


      4 years ago from Australia

      G'day there Dave and thanks for introducing me to the Chat species of birds:)

      On my daily walks I have often seen similar looking birds darting in and around the Bushes next to the river!

      These birds look very similar in size to your Stonechat have a yellow belly but appear to have a 'ring' maybe white around the eyes!

      Do you think this may be a form of Chat ?

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Mel Carriere,

      hi, thank you for your comments they are appreciated. You are correct in saying the yellow breasted chat is a New world warbler, of the family Parulidae {Sometimes placed in the family Incertae Sedis.} and I will add text to make this clear. Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Mel Carriere,

      hi, thank you for your comments they are appreciated. You are correct in saying the yellow breasted chat is a New world warbler, of the family Parulidae {Sometimes placed in the family Incertae Sedis.} and I will add text to make this clear. Best wishes to you.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      Beautiful hub. As you have indicated, the name "chat" has been applied to particularly chatty birds of all families. I have seen the Yellow breasted chat you picture above in our local riparian locales, and if I am not mistaken they are a large New World Warbler, of the Parulidae family.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb I hope you do get to see them in Scotland,they are beautiful birds. thank you for your visit, It is appreciated. best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I hope to meet the chats in your area when I go to Scotland. Not sure when this will happen yet.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika, Your comments are as usual kind and encouraging and your votes are much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A unique bird and I did not know much about the beautiful Stonechat. Lovely photos and always a learning lesson from you. Voted up, interesting, beautiful and interesting.


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