WHINCHAT (Saxicola rubetra)

FAMILY: MUSCICAPIDAE (Old world flycatchers)

This small chat that has a large head and small body can be seen perched on fence posts or bushes making a low clicking call. A summer visitor to the UK, it has its stronghold in grasslands and meadows in the north and western regions of the UK, with most of the breeding population in Wales. They arrive in April and leave in August to fly to Africa for the winter months. The population of whinchats has decreased steadily since the 1990s, meaning it is now on the red list.

Discover our Promises

Alert Status:

Red - 52% decline ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 50,000 (updated 2016)

Listen to whinchat song:


Male whinchats have mottled brown upperparts and crowns with some white streaking and a short black tail. Their belly is pale buff with orange flanks, throat, and bib. Their heads are mottled brown with a white collar, white eyebrows, and black cheeks. The female looks similar to the male but is paler with less contrast between the colours.

Average Length: 12.5 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 21-24 cm

BACK to a-z

Whinchat diet

Whinchats mainly eat invertebrates such as spiders, dragonflies, and worms. In autumn they will supplement their diet with seeds and berries.

Whinchat breeding and nesting information

Breeding begins in April when a cup-shaped nest is built in low vegetation or on the ground. The nest is usually made from grass and leaves and lined with finer material. 5 to 6 eggs are laid in the nest and incubated by the female alone for 13 days. Once hatched the chicks are fed by both parents for 13-14 days until they fledge. As the chicks remain dependent on the parents for some time after they leave the nest, pairs will usually only produce one brood every season.

Threats to Whinchats

Declines in whinchat populations are attributed to changes in agricultural practices. The main driver is earlier mowing dates of grassland areas. This not only causes the direct destruction of active nests but makes the nests more visible to predators. Furthermore, the young take a while to fly and avoid predators by sitting still in long grass and so they will likely be caught by early mowing. Damage to grassland habitats through the reduction in vegetation diversity and application of pesticides is also likely to decrease this population. As with many of our migrants who spend the winter months in Africa, climate-driven droughts are likely to cause declines in the future.

How you can help

Petition local areas to protect grassland habitat and if you own land, delay mowing until after the breeding season.  

If walking near a population, keep dogs on leads and be careful not to damage active ground nests.  

Avoid using harsh chemicals in your garden and petition local areas to do the same.

Fascinating Fact

Whin is another name for gorse, which is often found in habitats that this bird uses, which could be where it got its name from.
Download Fact Sheet
Discover our Promises


BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Saxicola rubetra. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/whinchat-saxicola-rubetra. Accessed: 10/10/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Whinchat | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/whinchat. Accessed: 10/10/2023.

Britschgi, A., Spaar, R., & Arlettaz, R. (2006). Impact of grassland farming intensification on the breeding ecology of an indicator insectivorous passerine, the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra: Lessons for overall Alpine meadowland management. Biological Conservation. 130(2): 193-205. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2005.12.013  

Broyer, J. (2009). Whinchat Saxicola rubetra reproductive success according to hay cutting schedule and meadow passerine density in alluvial and upland meadows in France. Journal for Nature Conservation, 17, 160–167. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2009.02.004  

Grüebler, M. U., Schuler, H., Spaar, R., & Naef-Daenzer, B. (2015). Behavioural response to anthropogenic habitat disturbance: Indirect impact of harvesting on whinchat populations in Switzerland. Biological Conservation. 186:52-59.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2015.02.031  

Muïler Reto Spaar AE Luc Schifferli Lukas Jenni, M. A. (2005). Effects of changes in farming of subalpine meadows on a grassland bird, the whinchat (Saxicola rubetra). Journal of Ornithology. 146:14-23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-004-0059-0  

mag glass