STONECHAT (Saxicola rubicola)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (Old world flycatchers and chats)

Stonechats are found throughout the UK and most of Europe, with a penchant for heaths, scrubby areas, and moorland. These birds can be found picture perfect, perched proudly on gorse and heather in moorland, easily identified by their loud and familiar call like small pebbles smashing together to the sound of “tak tak”.

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Alert Status:

 Green - 147% increase ↑

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 65,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to Stonechat song:


Often referred to as ‘small and dumpy’, the stonechat is a striking bird that makes its presence known in moorlands. Adult males have short dark tails, a dark black-brown head with distinctive white neck patch and bright rust-red belly. The wings are dark with large white wing patches and a pale white rump. The females do not have this striking black head and back, but have a brown head and body, with pale line over their eye and underneath their throat. The belly is still rust-red in colour, but much paler. Juveniles look more similar to the females but have a mottled chest.

Average Length: 11.5-13 cm

Average Lifespan: 4-5 Years

Average Wingspan: 21-23 cm

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Stonechat diet

Stonechats eat mainly insects but will eat fruit or seeds in the colder months when insects become scarcer. Nestling stonechats eat exclusively invertebrates, with research showing their diet is made up of many beetles, spiders, and flies.

Stonechat breeding and nesting information

Stonechats will begin to nest and lay eggs between March and late June, with 2-3 broods laid annually, in clutches of 5-6 eggs. They build their nests on the ground or low to the ground in dense bushes. Their nest is an open cup shape, constructed of grass, leaves, roots and moss, and lined with hair and feathers. Eggs are incubated by the female for around 2 weeks, and then fed by the parents until fledging after another 2 weeks.

Threats to Stonechats

Stonechats are currently green listed and are not in decline in the UK. However, they do suffer from many of the same threats as our other songbirds. Loss of habitat due to urbanisation and agricultural intensification are thought to be drivers.

How you can help

Keep dogs and horses on leads/on paths during the breeding season of these ground-nesting birds to keep their young safe.

Avoid using pesticides to allow insect life to thrive.

If you live in a place with stonechats, leave grass long for shelter.

Fascinating Fact

The stonechat has an interesting history in Scottish folklore, thought to be mythical creatures as they disappeared in the autumn months for no reason known to the locals. Many believed the stonechat to chat to the devil and were seen as unlucky birds that cursed three days in April to terrible weather. For this reason, stonechats were seen as sacred and were to be respected by the locals, or it could lead to a terrible fate.
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Biddle, L.E., Broughton, R.E., Goodman, A.M., Deeming, D.C. (2018) Composition of bird nests is a species-specific characteristic. Avian biology research. 11(2): doi: 10.3184/175815618X15222318755467

Cummins, S., O’Halloran, J. (2002) An assessment of the diet of nestling Stonechats Saxicola torquate using compositional analysis. Bird Study. 49:139-145.

Goodrich-Freer, A. (2011). More Folklore from the Hebrides (Folklore History Series). United Kingdom: Read Books Limited.

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Tate, P. (2009). Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition. United Kingdom: Random House.

Van Oosten, H. (2017) Comparative Breeding Biology of Three Insectivorous Songbirds in Dutch Dune Grasslands. Ardea. 104(3):199-212.

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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