Stonechat

Saxicola torquata

12.5cm

Appearance

Comparable size to the Whinchat, but the Stonechat is stouter, its head is fuller, and the wings shorter. Sexes differ. Males in spring have a dark, sooty-black head, a white section on the neck's side, white wing patches and rump, a dark brownish back and an orangish breast. Colours are duller in autumn, and the head in particular is more pale. Dark legs and bill. Females are streakier and browner on top, the white neck patches are buff, and the head is brownish rather than black. Juveniles are similar to females but they're duller, with spotting and barring.

Habitat

Prefers to breed on heaths, coastal areas including dunes, and in gorse vegetation. May also be found in areas near humans, such as golfing greens and railway ditches.

Character

Has an erect stance when perched, but is usually twitchy and active, fanning its tail and flitting its wings. Mostly feeds on the ground and is most commonly seen alone or in pairs in the region, even when not in breeding season.

Food

Diet includes weevils, ichneumon flies, shieldbugs, moths, caterpillars, ants, spiders, snails, worms, seeds and blackberries.

Breeding

Female lays 5 or 6 eggs which she incubates for 12-15 days. Both adults feed the hatchlings, which fledge at about 12-15 days old, though they rely on parents, particularly the male, for 5-10 days more. A pair may raise between 2 and 4 broods in one season.

Population

Majority of the population is resident, however the region plays host to migrants too. Resident birds may move to the coast to spend winter, and others may leave and head towards the Mediterranean. Some Stonechats arrive from Europe to spend the winter in Britain. Approximately 56 000 pairs breed in the UK and less than 20 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The abrupt and distinctive call, similar to stones colliding, is a giveaway of this species. Their distribution is fairly wide and some are in the region all year, so they're likely to be seen perched in appropriate habitat.

Voice

The 'huuit, tchac, tchac' is compared to a couple of small stones clashing together. Has a fast-paced, trilling song.
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