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 bluethroat is a small, slim songbird. In breeding plumage the adult male has predominantly dark brown upper parts with much lighter greyish brown underparts. Wings are a plain mid brown in colour and the upper tail is dark grey bordered by a rufous patch at either side of the uppertail. A bold white stripe extends across the supercilium over the eye. Immediately below the lower mandible the chin and throat is a deep blue with a rufous red upward turned crescent shape, dividing the blue patch in the region of the upper breast. At the base of the blue patch there is a thin black and white band with a further rufous or orange brown area below morphing to the light grey of the remaining underparts. The legs are long and thin and coloured dark brown to black. The eyes are a dark brown and the bill black. In the non breeding plumage the adult male is similar although the distinct blue and rufous throat and coloured upper breast are far less obvious, being obscured by the pale tips of feathers. In general, the adult female replicates the non breeding colours of the male with the addition of white cheeks, a pale throat and with a dark breast band frequently spotted blue. Juveniles are mainly a dark brown on the upperparts, head and breast, streaked with buff to rufous markings and remaining underparts a pale grey. The rump and base of the tail is shaded rust red.
A master at mimicry the bluethroat has a powerful and melodious song often repeated and interspersed with short notes and softer lengthened trills. It frequently mimics other species of bird resident within its immediate area.
Close up of a Bluethroat
The bluethroat forages on the ground, usually under dense cover and amongst leave litter to feed on small insects, caterpillars, spiders and insect larvae but also takes seeds and berries, although mainly in the autumn.
The bluethroat breeds across the north of the palearctic region in northern Europe and Asia from Scandinavia right across to the Russian Far East and south into China. During the winter months they migrate south to Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, South and East Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Southern Europe. A small population also breeds in North West Alaska. There are twelve subspecies that generally differ in plumage and patternation confined only to the throat colour varying from red or rufous crescent shaped throat spots, to white spots or no throat spots at all and the throat being entirely blue. The subspecies variously breed in territories across the north of the palearctic through Russia including Siberia through to the Kamchatka Peninsula on the Russian Pacific coast and into Mongolia and Central China. The migrate in the Northern winter to sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian sub-continent and through to Myanmar and Thailand.
Bluethroat about to take off for flight
Often found in reedbeds and swampy ground the bluethroat prefers damp and wet habitats including moist woods and heaths. Similar in size, shape and weight to the European Robin the male’s summer, otherwise known as his breeding plumage, is distinct even accounting for the differences within the sub-species. It has a low, fast, flitting flight, generally over short distances between patches of cover.
Dependant upon location, breeding takes place from April through to July when one clutch of between 5 – 7 pale green, brown speckled, eggs is produced and normally incubated by the female alone for around thirteen days before hatching takes place. Fledging usually occurs approximately two weeks later. Some European populations produce two broods annually. The deep, cup shaped nests are often built around tussock grass or wet scrubland, predominantly by the female.
Male and Female Bluethroats
Life expectancy for the bluethroat is up to five years.
Blue Rock Thrush
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.
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 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.