Whinchat

Saxicola rebetra

Last updated: May 23, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit Light and Vision/Shutterstock.com

The whinchat can imitate the songs of at least a dozen other tpes of birds!

Whinchat Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Muscicapidae
Genus
Saxicola
Scientific Name
Saxicola rebetra

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Whinchat Conservation Status

Whinchat Locations

Whinchat Locations

Whinchat Facts

Prey
Insects, spiders, snails, worms
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
  • Flocks
Fun Fact
The whinchat can imitate the songs of at least a dozen other tpes of birds!
Estimated Population Size
47,000 pairs in the United Kingdom
Biggest Threat
Habitat distruction caused by mowing, since they nest on the ground
Most Distinctive Feature
The male's orange-buff breast during the breeding season
Wingspan
8.27 - 9.45 inches
Incubation Period
11 - 14 days
Age Of Independence
Four weeks
Age Of Fledgling
Just over two weeks
Habitat
Lightly cultivated grassland and pastures
Diet
Omnivore
Common Name
Whinchat
Number Of Species
1
Location
Europe, western Asia
Nesting Location
The ground
Age of Molting
17 - 19 days
Migratory
1

Whinchat Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • White
  • Orange
Lifespan
2 - 7 years
Weight
0.46 to 0.92 ounces
Length
4.7 - 5.5 inches

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Whinchats are abundant, but their numbers are declining.

The English name for this diminutive bird comes from its habit of hanging around the gorse plants of its native western Europe and Britain and its call. It’s solitary, though both parents raise the young, and it makes a surprisingly strenuous migration from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. Its one vulnerability is that it likes to build its nest on the ground, and too often those nests get run over by mowing machines.

Five Amazing Facts

Read about these five amazing facts about the whinchat.

  1. It’s a solitary little bird though it may create small groups in the fall.
  2. Its eggs are robin’s egg blue.
  3. Adults molt all their feathers in the late summer.
  4. Though it’s widely distributed in much of Europe, it’s considered rare in Ireland.
  5. The Whinchat sometimes breeds with the European stonechat.

Where To Find the Whinchat

In spring and early summer, the whinchat is found in much of Europe and western Asia. It’s found as far north as Norway and as far south as Greece and as far east as the Caucasus Mountains. In the late summer and fall, it migrates to sub-Saharan Africa. There it can be found as far west as Senegal and as far east as Kenya and as far south as Zambia, though some birds have been found in South Africa.

Whinchat Nests

The whinchat’s nesting habitat is on the ground, usually among shrubbery. This is problematic because it exposes the nest to being trampled by livestock or run over by farm equipment. The female builds the nest out of moss and dried grass and lines it with hair and the finer blades of bentgrass.

Scientific Name

The whinchat’s scientific name is Saxicola rubetra. Saxicola comes from the Latin words for “rock” which is saxum and “dwelling” which is incola. Rubetra is also Latin and means “small bird.” So the scientific name can mean “small bird who lives among the rocks.” Whin is a name for gorse, a type of shrub that’s found in western Europe, and chat describes the bird’s calls. There are no subspecies.

Appearance

The whinchat is a small bird that’s about 4.7 to 5.65 inches long with a weight of between 0.46 to 0.92 ounces. Its legs are long in proportion to its body, and it has a short tail. It isn’t a boldly colored bird, but both male and female are brown, with mottled dorsal areas, a buff-colored breast and throat, and a paler belly. The tail is very dark brown or black, and the tail feathers are white at the base. The male becomes a bit more colorful during the breeding season. He develops a black mask with a white stripe that runs from his beak to the back of his head and a white stripe on each cheek. His throat and breast change from buff to a more orange color, and he has small white patches on his wing coverts. The female is duller and lacks these patches. Outside of the breeding season, males and females are hard to tell apart.

Behavior

The whinchat is a sprightly little bird that is often seen hopping over the ground and flicking its wings and tail. It has a somewhat grating but soft call, though it only gives alarm calls while in its wintering grounds. It is usually solitary but can be seen in little family groups when it migrates. It prefers pasture or lightly farmed grassland with a decent number of shrubs, fence posts, or even a sturdy plant on which to perch. These perches are where they suss out the area for potential prey and display to fellow whinchats. After the breeding season, adult whinchats completely molt their feathers but grow new feathers in time to migrate. They also have a partial molt in the spring, just before they fly north from their wintering grounds.

Diet

Whinchats are largely insectivores, though they’ll also take spiders, worms, and snails. Now and then they’ll eat fruit and seeds.

Whinchat Predators and Threats

As a little bird, the whinchat has a variety of predators. They include mustelids such as stoats and weasels and birds of prey such as the merlin, which is a small but rapacious falcon. Magpies and crows take hatchlings and cuckoos practice nest parasitism. The cuckoo lays its egg in a whinchat nest and then leaves. The whinchat parents then devote much of their time to raising the enormous cuckoo chick to the detriment of their own chicks. Bad weather also impacts the bird’s ability to breed successfully.

Conservationists believe that on top of these threats the whinchat is imperiled by the mowing of their nesting habitat.

Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Whinchats breed at the end of April and into May. The female builds the nest by herself and lays from four to seven blue eggs. These eggs hatch eleven to fourteen days later, and both parents feed the chicks. The chicks leave the nest when they’re about two weeks old, even though they’re not yet able to fly. They’ll fledge a few days after this but their parents still feed them for another two weeks or so. Whinchats are not particularly long-lived birds and only have a lifespan of about two years, though some have been known to live to nearly seven years.

Whinchat Population

Whinchats are fairly abundant where they live though their population is declining largely due to silage cutting that disrupts the nesting habitat. The bird’s conservation status is Least Concern.

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Whinchat FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the whinchat migrate?

The whinchat does migrate from Europe and western Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. The migration begins in late summer.

How many eggs does the whinchat lay?

The whinchat lays between four and seven eggs.

How fast does the whinchat fly?

As the whinchat is a type of Old World flycatcher, its top speed is probably about 18 miles per hour.

What is the whinchat’s wingspan?

The bird’s wingspan is between 8.27 and 9.45 inches.

When do whinchats leave the nest?

The chicks leave the nest when they’re about two weeks old, though they’re not able to fly yet.

The whinchat can imitate the songs of at least a dozen other tpes of birds!

The whinchat used to be considered a thrush, but now it’s considered a type of Old World flycatcher.

Where can I see a whinchat?

You can see whinchat in pastures and rough, open grasslands around Europe in the spring and in many tropical sub-Saharan African countries in the fall.

How do you pronounce whinchat?

Whinchat is pronounced WIN chat.

13 days

A whinchat is between 4.7 to 5.5 inches long and weighs between 0.46 to 0.92 ounces

Lightly cultivated grassland and pastures

The whinchat lives in western Europe and western Asia. It migrates in the late summer to tropical Africa to spend the winter.

Sources
  1. ITIS, Available here: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=562837#null
  2. Datazone, Available here: http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/whinchat-saxicola-rubetra
  3. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whinchat
  4. Science Direct, Available here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1617138119302055
  5. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Available here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/whinchat/
  6. AnAge, Available here: https://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Saxicola_rubetra

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