Stonechat

Saxicola torquatus, Saxicola caprata, and others

Last updated: October 13, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock.com

Their songs are harsh and sound like two rocks hitting together.

Stonechat Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Muscicapidae 
Genus
Saxicola
Scientific Name
Saxicola torquatus, Saxicola caprata, and others

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Stonechat Conservation Status

Stonechat Locations

Stonechat Locations

Stonechat Facts

Prey
They eat insects, including worms, slugs, and snails
Main Prey
Grasshoppers and dragonflies
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Social
Fun Fact
Their songs are harsh and sound like two rocks hitting together.
Estimated Population Size
Unknown but stable
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Orange breast and flanks
Distinctive Feature
large heads and thick necks
Wingspan
11 inches
Incubation Period
13 to 14 days
Age Of Independence
Around one month
Age Of Fledgling
12 to 16 days
Habitat
Shrublands and grasslands
Predators
Birds of prey, foxes, snakes
Diet
Insectivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Grasshoppers
Type
Bird
Common Name
Stonechat
Number Of Species
14
Location
Asia, Europe, Africa
Nesting Location
Dense vegetation close to the ground
Migratory
1

Stonechat Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • White
  • Orange
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
4 to 8 years
Weight
0.3 to 0.9 ounces
Length
4 to 5 inches

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“Their sharp calls sound like two stones being knocked together.”

Summary

The stone chat is a small passerine bird with an enormous range spanning three continents. Most species are nonmigratory or short-distance migrants, but many prefer to live in their habitats year-round. They predominately inhabit grassland and scrublands, placing their nests in low vegetation. Find out everything there is to know about the stone chat genus, including where they live, where they migrate, and how they reproduce.

5 Amazing Stone Chat Facts

  • Stonechats have an extensive range, covering over 100 countries across three continents.
  • Their songs are harsh and sound like two rocks hitting together.
  • Grasshoppers and dragonflies are their favorite food
  • The Fuerteventura stonechat is “near threatened” due to habitat loss
  • Stonechats are monogamous during the breeding season but don’t typically mate for life

Where to Find the Stone Chat

The stone chat lives in over 100 countries across three continents, including Russia, France, Ethiopia, China, Greece, and many more. You can find it throughout Europe, Asia, and Northern, Central, and Southern coastal areas of Africa (from Morrocco to Angola to South Africa). Stonechats in Europe inhabit shrubland, coastal dunes, and rough grasslands. You can find them in open grasslands, shrublands, swamp edges, and cultivated land in Africa. Some populations inhabit mountainous areas in Southwest Arabia and Madagascar. 

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Stone Chat Nest

Females build their nests in dense vegetation close to the ground. She constructs a loose cup of dried grass and lines it with animal hair and feathers. Occasionally, stonechats will place their nest in rock crevices or holes in the ground.

Scientific Name

The stonechat (Saxicola) is in the Muscicapidae family, which are small passerine birds restricted to the Old World. They are small arboreal insectivores, encompassing over 300 species. The genus, Saxicola, is Latin for “rock-dwelling” and contains 15 species of “chats.”

The 15 species accepted in the Saxicola genus:

  • Whinchat
  • White-browed bush chat
  • White-throated bush chat
  • Canary Islands stonechat
  • European stonechat
  • Siberian stonechat
  • Amur stonechat
  • African stonechat
  • Madagascar stonechat
  • Reunion stonechat
  • White-tailed stonechat
  • Pied bush chat
  • Jerdon’s bush chat
  • Grey bush chat
  • White-bellied bush chat

Size, Appearance, & Behavior

stonechat
Their songs are harsh and sound like two rocks hitting together.

OUESTUSA/Shutterstock.com

Stonechats are small passerine birds, measuring between four and five inches long and weighing 0.3 to 0.9 ounces, with a seven to eleven-inch wingspan. They have stout bodies, large heads, and thick necks. Males have dark brown heads, wings, and throats, with white patches on the sides of its neck. Their breasts and flanks are orange, transitioning to a grayish-white on their undersides. Females are a mottled brown color. They also feature short, pointed bills, rounded wings, and short tails. Their songs are harsh and sound like two rocks hitting together, and their calls are quick and squeaky.

Migration Pattern and Timing

Most stonechats are either nonmigratory, meaning they are residents in their environments. Some species are partial migrants who may move slightly south for winter. For instance, the common stonechat stays year-round in particular habitats. It’s a resident in Central and Southern Africa (Angola, South Africa, etc.), Madagascar, and parts of Europe (Spain, France, and Italy). In places like China, Russia, Hungary, and Ukraine, stone chats will stay for the breeding season and then move south for winter in areas like Germany, Austria, Morocco, and Algeria.

Diet

Stonechats are insectivores that supplement with seeds and berries.

What Does the Stone Chat Eat?

The stone chat eats a wide variety of insects, including worms, slugs, and snails. It primarily eats grasshoppers and dragonflies. But they will also eat invertebrates like spiders. It will eat berries, seeds, and nuts from bushes and trees during winter. And occasionally, they will eat small frogs and lizards. It forages for food on the ground and in low vegetation like shrubs and hedges.

Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

The IUCN lists most stonechat species as LC or “least concern.” Due to their extensive range and large, stable population, they do not qualify for “threatened” status. The Fuerteventura Stonechat (Saxicola dacotiae) is the only exception and has an NT or “near threatened” status. This species has a small range in the Canary Islands and is experiencing habitat loss from urbanization and the agricultural industry. Studies also indicate tropical stonechats are less likely to lay a second brood due to nest predation and a limited food supply.

What Eats the Stone Chat?

Not much is known about the stonechat’s predators. But they (and their chicks) may fall victim to foxes, birds of prey, crows, ravens, and snakes. Males and females defend their nests by producing alarm and defense calls.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Stonechats breed around one-year-old. And while they are monogamous during the breeding season, they don’t typically mate for life. Females lay four to six pale blue-green eggs early in the morning during daily intervals. She incubates them by herself for 13 to 14 days, but both parents care for and feed the chicks. Nestlings fledge the nest 12 to 16 days after hatching, but both parents tend to them for four to five days. Males take over feedings for another 10 to 15 days, while the female begins making another nest for her second brood. Stonechats raise two to three broods in one season. These birds have a lifespan between four and eight years.

Population

The exact global population of the stonechat is unknown, but most species appear stable. The Fuerteventura Stonechat is the only stonechat with decreasing numbers. However, not enough research has been done to give an accurate estimate of the magnitude of loss. Researchers believe they are declining due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation.

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

Stonechat FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Why is it called a stonechat?

Their calls sound like two stones knocking together.

Are stonechats common in the UK?

They are common in the UK during the warmer months. They predominantly reside in western and southern areas of the UK.

Are stonechats migrant?

Most are either nonmigratory or or partial migrants, who move short distances during winter.

Are stonechats endangered?

The IUCN lists most stonechat species as LC or “least concern.” Due to their extensive range and large, stable population, they do not qualify for “threatened” status.

Where does a stonechat nest?

Females build their nests in dense vegetation close to the ground in shrublands, grasslands, and coastal dunes.

What do stonechats look like?

They have stout bodies with large heads and thick necks. Adult males have dark brown heads, wings, and throats, with white patches on the sides of its neck. Their breasts and flanks are orange, transitioning to a grayish-white on their undersides.

How big are stonechats?

Stonechats measure between four and five inches long and weigh 0.3 to 0.9 ounces, with a seven to eleven-inch wingspan.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/search?query=skua&searchType=species
  2. JSTOR / Proceedings: Biological Sciences / Alexander Scheuerlein, Thomas J. Van't Hof and Eberhard Gwinner, Available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3068014
  3. Elsevier / Animal Behaviour / P.W.Greig-Smith, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003347280800698

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