Stonechat

Saxicola rubicola

Males are handsomely coloured with orange breast and flanks, females are a bright buff.

Stonechat

Family:

Chats

Length:

12.5cm

Wingspan:

18cm to 21cm

Weight:

13g to 17g

What does a Stonechat look like?

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.

Female Stonechat

Female Stonechat

What does a Stonechat sound like?

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

Female Stonechat perched on a fence

What does a Stonechat eat?

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.

Stonechat

Where can I see Stonechats?

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

Stonechat in flight

Signs and Spotting tips

Stonechats have a habit of sitting on the top of vegetation, such as gorse bushes, and flicking their wings together.

How does a Stonechat breed?

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.

Male Stonechat

Male Stonechat

How long do Stonechats live for?

Stonechats can live for up to 7 years. The average lifespan is 4-5 years.

Do Stonechat migrate?

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.

Threats and conservation

The stonechat UK breeding population consists of 59,000 pairs. The species has a UK conservation status of Green.

Similar birds to a Stonechat

Other birds in the Chats family