Males are handsomely coloured with orange breast and flanks, females are a bright buff.
The stonechat is slightly smaller than its relative the robin, with a large head, thick neck and somewhat dumpy body. The male of the species is particularly handsome. He has a dark-brown head and throat, with isolated white patches on the sides of the neck. The mantle and scapulars are evenly dark brown. This contrasts with orange breast and flanks, shading to greyish white on belly and undertail coverts. The underwing is dark. The white rump is streaked brownish. The closed wing shows a white panel. Adult female upperparts are mottled brownish, and white areas are replaced by buff. The bill, short and pointed, and the legs of both sexes are a dark grey-brown. The juvenile is greyer and heavily spotted, resembling the bright but uniform buffish female by its first autumn. The juvenile very much resembles the juvenile robin.
The stonechat is smaller than the robin and has shorter, more rounded wings than the whinchat. Its short tail is forked at the tip and has distinct white markings in males but is brown in females. In the breeding season, the male stonechat has a dark brown or black head, back and upperparts of the wings, often with paler streaks. Females are drabber and lack white wingbars. During winter, males also become drab and appear brown.
The stonechat produces a shrill and fairly monotonous series of short, scratchy and whistled phrases. Its call is a harsh ‘tchack’. The stonechat’s name derives from the sound of its call: like two stones knocking together.
Stonechat alarm call
Simon Elliott, XC594901. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/594901.
Female Stonechat perched on a fence
Stonechats mainly eat insects, worms, grubs and spiders. They can also take tiny lizards. In autumn and winter, they can eat seeds. They are also fond of blackberries.
The stonechat requires substantial vegetation cover so shuns bare areas that are predominantly grassy. Where it does occur, the stonechat will tolerate various types of habitat, it is often to found on the edge of agriculture where there is scattered shrub, fences and walls. Young conifer plantations are also a prime site to find stonechats, as are coastal sites, especially in southern and western counties of England. Stonechats can be seen all year round in Britain. RSPB reserves Canvey Wick and Hoy are known as good places to see stonechats.
Stonechat in flight
Stonechats have a habit of sitting on the top of vegetation, such as gorse bushes, and flicking their wings together.
Stonechats breed in heathland and coastal dunes, preferring small shrubs, bramble, open gorse and heather. The male stonechat performs a mating dance to attract the female. She perches on a twig and he jumps over her up to 20 times while singing to her. Should this athletic display be successful, the female will consequently lay a clutch of 4-6 eggs, smooth, glossy pale blue to greenish-blue, and variably marked reddish. She will incubate these for 14 days, and can raise 2 broods a year. The nest consists of a loose cup of dry stems and leaves lined with hair, feathers and wool, hidden near to the ground.
Stonechats can live for up to 7 years. The average lifespan is 4-5 years.
Stonechats are mainly resident in Britain. The bird breeds in western and southern parts of the UK, but will disperse more widely outside of breeding season.
The stonechat UK breeding population consists of 59,000 pairs. The species has a UK conservation status of Green.
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 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.