European Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

European Stonechat

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Muscicapidae | [latin] Saxicola rubicola | [UK] European Stonechat | [FR] Cotinga noir | [DE] Schwarzkehlchen | [ES] Tarabilla comun | [NL] Roodborsttapuit


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Saxicola rubicola EU w, s Europe, n Africa
Saxicola rubicola hibernans
Saxicola rubicola rubicola

Physical charateristics

Close in size to Whinchat, but a little shorter, more rounded wings and noticeably round head.
Smallest widespread chat of west Palearctic, with virtually diagnostic character: large, round, busby-like head, compact form, upright stance, often bold behaviour, constant nervous twitching of wings and tail, and whirring flight. when perched, recalls guardsman on sentry post. In flight, huge bumble bee.
Adult male has wholly black head and chestnut breast. Female and immatures far less distinctive, with most characters subject to complex geographical variation, most marked in decreasing saturation of fresh plumage, differences in underpart and tail patterns, and increase in facial contrasts in eastern races, which have pale supercilium and throat.
Sexes dissimilar, much seasonal variation.

wingspan min.: 21 cm wingspan max.: 23 cm
size min.: 11 cm size max.: 13 cm
incubation min.: 13 days incubation max.: 14 days
fledging min.: 15 days fledging max.: 14 days
broods: 3   eggs min.: 6  
      eggs max.:  


Eurasia : West, South Europe, North Africa


Breeds in west Palearctic in middle and lower middle latitudes, in temperate, steppe, and Mediterranean zones, except for disjunct range of E race maura, which extends into boreal zone of north-west of the region.
Absent from high-altitude mountainous regions in north of range, and from high forest, wetlands, and open expanses which are bare or have only sparse or low vegetation.
Not affected by lack of standing or running water. Within these limitations, inhabits wide variety of dry plains and hillsides, often submarginal for agriculture, characterized by scattered bushes, shrubs, stones, walls, or fences, used as look-outs or song-posts commanding lower heathland, grassland, or bare patches.


Breeds March-June in North-East Europe, mid April in South and Central Europe, mid May in former USSR. Nest is site on or close to ground in dense vegetation, at base of bush, in tussock, or low down in thick scrub. Nest, loose, unwoven cup of dry grass stems and leaves, lined with hair and feathers sometimes with wool. The 4-6 eggs are incubated for 13-14 days, by female only.

Feeding habits

Small and medium-sized insects and other invertebrates. Locates terrestrial prey from elevated perch, then flies, glides, or hops to ground, picking prey up on landing or while standing on ground.


This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 1,000,000-10,000,000 km2. It has a large global population, including an estimated 4,000,000-9,200,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Saxicola torquata is a widespread breeder across much of Europe, which accounts
for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population
is very large (>2,000,000 pairs), but declined markedly between 1970-1990. Although
the species declined in a few countries during 1990-2000, the majority of European
populations increased or were stable (trends were not known for Spain or Russia),
and it underwent a moderate increase overall. This increase probably outweighs the
earlier decline.


Varies from migratory to resident in different parts of range, being sensitive to cold winter weather. Migratory European populations winter in south of breeding range, with notable concentrations in southern and eastern Spain, Balearic islands, and Algerian coast. Mediterranean populations apparently resident, North African probably so. S. t. hibernans (breeding Britain, Ireland, north-west France, and western Iberia) partially migratory, at least in north, some (mainly older) birds resident, others (mainly young) migratory as far as Iberia and North Africa, or making shorter movements to south and west coasts. S. t. maura (breeding Ural area and north-west Russia) is long-distance migrant, majority wintering in northern India and north-west Burma.
Both maura (mostly) and stejnegeri (breeding eastern Siberia) are vagrants to western Europe, occurring mainly in period 9 September-7 November. S. t. variegata (breeding north Caspian area) has occurred in Norway in June, and in Britain September-October.

Distribution map

European Stonechat distribution range map

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