Stonechat: Small, round thrush with black-brown back and white rump. Underparts are white except for orange breast. Head is black, has white patches on neck. Wings are black-brown with white patches. Tail is black. Bill, legs, feet are black. Active, constantly spreading tail and flicking its wings.
Range and Habitat
Stonechat: Resident in much of the UK and Ireland, particularly around the coasts, especially in the winter. Some European birds winter on the east coast of Britain. Found in heaths and moors, coastal areas and marshes, dunes and conifer plantations. Prefers areas with gorse.
Chats and Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
The Chats and Old World flycatchers are one of the one hundred eighteen families of birds in the order PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez); a large taxonomic order that includes other familiar bird families such as thrushes, starlings, and larks.
There are three hundred one species of chats, flycatchers, wheatears, and robins, in fifty three genera in the Muscicapidae (pronounced mus-kih-KAP-uh-dee), a large family mostly restricted to the Old World (IOC World Bird List, version 2.3).
Twenty-nine species of the Muscicapidae family in eleven genera are found in Europe. These include such familiar birds as the Stonechat, European Robin, and Nightingale, and less familiar birds such as the Rufous Bush Robin, White-throated Robin, and Red-flanked Bluetail.
Many species in this family (such as the European Robin) are known for being friendly, confiding garden birds. Some, such as the Nightingale, are also well known for their beautiful songs that are frequently sung during the night.
The robins, chats, and Old World Flycatchers are small birds, while the rock-thrushes are medium-sized, and have stockier builds. Most members of this huge family have medium length wings and tails, and rather short, thin bills suitable for taking insect prey. Legs are fairly long in the chats, robins, wheatears, and other terrestrial chat-like species, while those of flycatchers tend to be shorter.
This family demonstrates a fairly wide range of colours. Sombre browns with patches of white predominates although some flycatchers and wheatears are plumaged in striking black and white. Several species show varying amounts of blue and red in their plumages, and a few even sport bright yellow.
The Muscicapidae occur in just about every possible terrestrial European habitat. Most European species favour habitats near or on the ground such as forest undergrowth, hedges, or moors, whereas the flycatchers are more arboreal in nature and prefer woodlands.
Most European species in this family migrate to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter although populations of the European Robin from Western Europe are permanent residents in gardens and parks.
The flycatchers tend to forage more often in company with other bird species compared to the more solitary and terrestrial chats, robins, wheatears, and rock-thrushes. The flycatchers are more arboreal in nature and catch their insect prey by sallying into the air from a perch. Other members of this family search for invertebrates in the foliage of low vegetation and on the ground.
None of the Muscicapidae family are considered to be threatened in Europe.
The migration of the Northern Wheatear is testament to the power of instinct. Instead of migrating to Mexico for the winter, populations of this species that breed in Greenland and northern Canada fly across the northern Atlantic and continue south to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa just as their ancestors did and Northern Wheatears from Europe continue to do.