Widespread throughout Southern Europe, North Africa and Southern Asia, the blue rock thrush is a large sized chat which is predominantly sedentary, although a partial migrant within specific narrow geographical areas.
Although named as a thrush this bird is actually a chat. The adult male of the nominate race has a dark blue body with darker brown coloured wings and tail. It is the same size as a starling and has a long thick spiky slate grey bill. From a distance the male can appear to be black although the head is a bright blue. The adult female is a dull browny blue grey on the upperparts extending from the forehead, across the crown and down the back. The face is pale and mottled with thin brown markings almost with the appearance of scales, which run down to the mid chest area. From the mid chest to the lower belly the body is pale with horizontal dark brown bars across the belly from flank to flank. Juveniles are similar to females but slighter darker with bolder underpart markings, although there is no blue colouration or shading on the plumage whatsoever. There are a total of five sub-species of blue rock thrush. The colour and patternation differences from the nominate of four of the sub-species are subtle, however the adult male of the sub-species Monticola solitarius philippensis is strikingly different, in that whilst the body of the bird is predominantly a bold blue, the breast, belly and undertail areas are a contrasting rufous to chestnut brown shade.
Close up of a Blue Rock Thrush
Female Blue Rock Thrush
Both sexes vocalise using a melody of high pitched warbling whistles or a deeper ‘chook – chook’ sound. The song can be is similar to that of a blackbird and the blue rock will frequently mimic the calls of other bird species.
Blue Rock Thrush Song / Call
Ali Alieslam, XC632846. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/632846.
Blue Rock Thrush in flight
In the main the bird is a ground feeder, foraging for berries, seeds, snails, insects, locusts, worms and spiders. Dependant upon location it will also take lizards, mice and snakes.
Blue Rock Thrush with rutting plumage
The blue rock thrush is widespread across Southern Europe, Africa and Asia from the shores of the Atlantic coast to islands of the Pacific. Sub-species are generally found in specific geographical regions as follows:
Breeding in North West Africa, Southern Europe and east through the Mediterranean (including the Balearics, Corsica, Malta and the Dodecanese) to Turkey and the Caucasus, non breeding, migratory birds, are also found in North Africa and Arabia.
This is smaller than the nominate and both adult males and females are paler in colour. They occupy the Eastern Mediterranean through Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir and some migrate south to North East Africa, Arabia and North West India.
Again this sub-species is smaller than the nominate and breeds in central and eastern Asia from the Himalayas through China into North Vietnam migrating south during the winter into South East Asia, Indonesia and Borneo.
Confined to the Far East regions of Asia this bird breeds from Mongolia across to North East China, Korea, Japan and islands to its north within the Japanese archipelago and South to the Ryukyu archipelago, Taiwan and the Northern Philippines migrating south to South East China, Taiwan, the Philippines and the western Pacific islands of Micronesia.
Finally, the smallest of the sub-species inhabits the Malay Peninsula, Northern Sumatra and the far south of Thailand.
Monticola solitarius philippensis (Blue Rock Thrush sub-species)
The blue rock thrush prefers open mountainous areas and cliff tops, particularly sea cliffs, rocky slopes, crags and deep valleys. In more urban environments it will choose tall buildings and churches and can often be spotted perching on rooftops or telephone wires. Its loud song can often give away its location, as the male in particular, is well camouflaged within rocky environments.
Blue Rock Thrush from behind
Whilst the majority of blue rock thrushes are sedentary a limited number do migrate from their breeding grounds annually; flying only by night in small groups of up to five birds.
Juvenile Blue Rock Thrush
During the breeding season the female will construct a cup shaped nest using dried grasses which is usually located under a rocky overhang or in a crack or crevice. Breeding occurs at different times dependant upon geographical location but mainly falls between the months of April to July. Within the bird’s northern range usually one brood is produced whereas in the more southerly regions two or even three clutches may be laid annually. Each clutch consists of between 3 – 7 pale blue green, dark spotted, eggs which are incubated for an average of two weeks. The young fledge at around sixteen days and may continue to be fed by the parents for a further two weeks.
Blue Rock Thrush on the ground
The expected lifespan for a blue rock thrush is from five to ten years.
Also known as the Common Nightingale this member of the chat family is a relatively nondescript little bird that has charmed listeners with its powerful and varied song for generations.
The bluethroat is a member of the chat family and like the larger thrushes, falls under the scientific umbrella of Turdidae. Turdus in Latin means thrush. There are some 300 different species of chats and thrushes within the Turdidae family.
The UK has a small resident breeding population of black redstarts supplemented annually by passage migrants, overwintering birds and summer breeders. Often at home as a city dweller choosing derelict sites, old buildings and industrial areas, the black redstart will also choose cliff ledges, gorges, rock and scree habitats.