A familiar bird of open habitats in the UK countryside, Stonechats are conspicuous and easy to spot. They are often seen in pairs, although the sexes are easily confused for different species.
Stonechats are distinctive birds, although males and females have different appearances. Continue reading to learn more Stonechat identification tips.
Stonechats are small, robin-like birds. Adult males are striking birds with mottled black backs and black heads linked at the nape. They have rich rufous underparts, and the sides of their necks are white. They have variable amounts of white on the vent and a white patch on each wing.
The female Stonechat is less boldly marked. Their breast is a duller orange-brown shade, and they are brownish above with a pale throat.
Juvenile Stonechats have dark brown upperparts with paler streaks and a faint eyebrow stripe (supercilium). Their underparts are lighter and include brown streaking on the chest and flanks.
Stonechats are small, delicately built songbirds. They have a similar body length to the House Sparrow but a much lighter frame.
Stonechats have a body length of 11.5 to 13 centimetres, measured from their tail to their bill.
Stonechats weigh just 13 to 17 grams.
They have a relatively short wingspan of 18 to 21 centimetres.
European Stonechat perched on top of a reed stem
Stonechats take their name from their characteristic calls. Read on to learn more about their vocalisations.
Male and female Stonechats produce a short, grating call that sounds like two stones tapped together. This characteristic call is interspersed with a high-pitched ‘weet’ note. Male Stonechats also produce a pleasant but weak, high-pitched song.
Stonechat alarm call
Simon Elliott, XC594901. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/594901.
Stonechats hunt their prey from a favourite perch by watching for movement and flying down for the catch. They also catch some prey from surrounding vegetation and, occasionally, from the air. Continue reading to learn more about their diet.
Stonechats feed primarily on insects, although they include seeds and fruits when live prey is scarce. The following food items are important components of their diet:
Stonechats feed their chicks a variety of insects and other invertebrates. Young chicks require soft-bodied insects at first but can manage the same prey as their parents after a time.
The young birds fledge after about two weeks in the nest, but their parents continue to feed them for a few more days before gaining independence.
Close up of a male Stonechat with a mealworm in his beak
European Stonechats are widespread in suitable habitats in the United Kingdom and beyond.
The Stonechat is a bird of open country like heathland, marshland, moorland, and coastal cliffs. These birds require a combination of larger shrubs like gorse and open areas of low vegetation to perch and hunt.
They prefer ‘rough’ ground and generally avoid recently cleared agricultural fields and wooded areas. Overwintering birds usually use low-lying grasslands and other open habitats.
Stonechats are widespread in the United Kingdom, although their numbers and range fluctuate in some years. They nest primarily in the west, although they disperse eastward in the winter non-breeding season.
Elsewhere, the species has a wide range, including most of Southern and Central Europe, North Africa, and parts of the Middle East.
Female Stonechat perched on a fence
Stonechats are usually seen perched in tall grass and rank vegetation, especially where it borders with shorter grass, scrub or marshland. They will readily use artificial perches like posts, walls, or wire fences.
Stonechats are fairly common in the United Kingdom, and their population has increased over the last three decades. The breeding population is estimated at 65,000 pairs, but their numbers fluctuate between mild and cold winters.
Stonechats are widespread in the UK, although you are unlikely to see these birds in your back garden or elsewhere in suburban areas. Visit open countryside with rough but low vegetation for your best chance at spotting these attractive chats.
Stonechats have a habit of sitting on the top of vegetation, such as gorse bushes, and flicking their wings together.
Stonechat in flight
Stonechats are vulnerable to many small predators, but harsh winters are one of the greatest threats to their survival. Continue reading to learn more about the Stonechat lifespan and conservation status.
Stonechats that survive to adulthood have an average lifespan of roughly four to five years. The oldest recorded specimen was from Germany and was found dead at eight years and ten months old.
Stonechats could fall prey to several small predators like cats, foxes, and birds of prey like Sparrowhawks. Their eggs and young are vulnerable to nest predators like rats and crows, and their nests may be parasitised by the Cuckoo.
Stonechats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.
Stonechats in the United Kingdom are not endangered. They are on the green list of conservation concern and rated as a ‘Least Concern’ species at an international level.
Four to five years is an average lifespan for Stonechats in the wild
Stonechats are fairly prolific breeders, which allows their populations to recover rapidly after harsh winters. They begin nesting as early as March and have up to three broods in good years. Read on to learn more about Stonechat nesting behaviour.
Stonechats nest in suitable habitats across most of the UK, although they avoid much of the southeast of England. They build their nests low in dense bush, either on the ground or up to about a meter high, although most nests are below a foot.
Stonechats lay four to six blue-green eggs, each speckled in reddish brown.
Stonechats do not mate for life, although they are usually monogamous during the breeding season.
Close up of a recently fledged Stonechat chick, waiting to be fed by parents
Stonechats are active little birds that often flick their tails restlessly. They are not afraid to call out at people from their prominent perches. Continue reading to learn more about Stonechat behaviour.
Stonechats can be aggressively territorial in both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Males defend their territory with frequent singing from a prominent position.
Most Stonechats probably roost in the safety and shelter of shrubs like gorse, brambles and larger heather plants.
Stonechats are wonderful birds to observe out in the field
Stonechats are resident to medium-distance migrants, depending on where they breed.
Stonechats are partially migratory in the UK. They are residents throughout the year in some areas but undertake seasonal movements in others.
The southeast of England sees an influx of Stonechats each winter as many birds migrate from northern and western breeding grounds, while some will migrate south as far as North Africa.
Stonechat coming in to land on a perch
Stonechats probably get their name from their characteristic call, which sounds like two stones being tapped together. However, their name is doubly appropriate considering that their scientific name (Saxicola) translates as ‘rock-dweller.’
Some Stonechats leave the United Kingdom in winter to enjoy the warmer weather in Southern Europe and North Africa. However, most remain in the UK all year, often moving to coastal and low-lying areas.
18cm to 21cm
13g to 17g
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.
Whinchats are small heathland birds with a striking orange, brown and white plumage. They arrive in northern Europe to breed each spring, before breed in northern Europe returning to their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa each autumn.
Sparrow-sized summer visitors to rocky uplands across Scotland, Wales and parts of England, wheatears are distinctive orange, black and grey songbirds that nest at ground level in burrows or crevices between rocks.
The common redstart is one of the more colourful summer migrants that arrives in Britain to breed each summer. For the best chance of spotting one, head to Wales and northern England, where they nest in hedgerows and oak woodlands from April onwards.
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.
First recorded as a breeding bird in the UK in 1926, black redstarts have gradually become more established although they remain a rare British bird species. Numbers increase in winter with the arrival of migrants from north-eastern Europe, and passage sightings are regularly reported in spring and autumn across eastern England.
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