Saxicola rubicola

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.


European Stonechat

Stonechat in flight, taking off from a perch with wings spread wide

Stonechat in flight, taking off from a perch with wings spread wide

Perched European Stonechat (male)

Perched European Stonechat (male)

Close up of a perched female Stonechat

Close up of a perched female Stonechat

Appearance & Identification

Stonechats are distinctive birds, although males and females have different appearances. Continue reading to learn more Stonechat identification tips.

What do Stonechats look like?

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.

<p><strong>Male Stonechat</strong></p>

Male Stonechat

<p><strong>Female Stonechat</strong></p>

Female Stonechat

How big are Stonechats?

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

European Stonechat perched on top of a reed stem

Calls & Sounds

Stonechats take their name from their characteristic calls. Read on to learn more about their vocalisations.

What sound does a Stonechat make?

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


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.

What do Stonechats eat?

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:

  • Beetles and their larvae
  • Ants
  • Grasshoppers
  • Earwigs
  • Snails
  • Earthworms
  • Small lizards
  • Blackberries

What do Stonechat chicks eat?

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

Close up of a male Stonechat with a mealworm in his beak

Habitat & Distribution

European Stonechats are widespread in suitable habitats in the United Kingdom and beyond.

What is the habitat of a Stonechat?

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.

What is the range of a Stonechat?

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

Female Stonechat perched on a fence

Where do Stonechats live?

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.

How rare are Stonechats?

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.

Where can you see Stonechats in the UK?

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.

Signs and Spotting tips

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

Stonechat in flight

Stonechat in flight

Lifespan & Predation

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.

How long do Stonechats live?

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.

What are the predators of Stonechats?

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.

Are Stonechats protected?

Stonechats are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Are Stonechats endangered?

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

Four to five years is an average lifespan for Stonechats in the wild

Nesting & Breeding

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.

Where do Stonechats nest?

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.

What do Stonechat eggs look like?

Stonechats lay four to six blue-green eggs, each speckled in reddish brown.

Do Stonechats mate for life?

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

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.

Are Stonechats aggressive?

Stonechats can be aggressively territorial in both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Males defend their territory with frequent singing from a prominent position.

Where do Stonechats sleep at night?

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 wonderful birds to observe out in the field


Stonechats are resident to medium-distance migrants, depending on where they breed.

Do Stonechats migrate?

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

Stonechat coming in to land on a perch


Why is it called a Stonechat?

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.’

Do Stonechats winter in the UK?

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.

Enjoyed this content? Share it now

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Saxicola rubicola

Other names:

European stonechat



Conservation status:






18cm to 21cm


13g to 17g

Similar birds to a Stonechat

Other birds in the Chats family

Get the best of Birdfact

Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.

Your information will be used in accordance with Birdfact's privacy policy. You may opt out at any time.

© 2024 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.