Stonechats, a year-round resident, can be seen openly perching on the top of bushes, and can often be found amongst the gorse of The Lizard.
Photo: Ray Surridge

Scientific name: Saxicola torquata

Other names: Eurasian Stonechat, Common Stonechat, Furze-chat, Gorse-chat

Cornish name: Chikkiar eithen

Conservation status: Least concern on IUCN Red List

The Stonechat, both a UK resident and winter visitor, and member of the Turdidae family of chats and thrushes, is about the same size as a Robin. Their preferred breeding habitat is heathland and scrubby grassland, where they build their nests in thick shrubs, including gorse. Stonechats can be recognised by the black head of the male (more prominent in summer), and the orange breast colouring (less marked in the paler-coloured females) and brown backs: in flight look out for the grey rump and white wing patches.

They primarily eat insects and worms, but will eat seeds and berries in the colder seasons of the year. Birds that have bred in the uplands move south and west in the winter to find warmer temperatures: nonetheless, like many small birds, they suffer in harsher winters, with high mortality, though their fast breeding rate of two to three broods per year can compensate for this.

The Stonechat can be confused with the Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), a summer visitor, which displays the same behaviours of openly perching on the tops of bushes and hopping on the ground, and also has an orange-coloured breast. Stonechats however lack the white eyestripe of Whinchats and are less slender in appearance.

Did you know…?

…the name Stonechat probably derives from the characteristic clicking call, used by both males and females, which has a metallic sound, like pebbles being tapped together. The males also have a warbling song.

…the local names of Furze-chat and Gorse-chat are also used for the Whinchat: an example of why the use of scientific names is important, even though common names can be easier to remember!

More information and references:

Gooders, J. and Harris, A., 1986. Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland. Kingfisher Books, London.

Published: June 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Ray Surridge