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Whinchat

Whinchat

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The Whinchat Saxicola rubetra is a small migratory
Bird migration
Bird migration is the regular seasonal journey undertaken by many species of birds. Bird movements include those made in response to changes in food availability, habitat or weather. Sometimes, journeys are not termed "true migration" because they are irregular or in only one direction...

 passerine
Passerine
A passerine is a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds, the passerines form one of the most diverse terrestrial vertebrate orders: with over 5,000 identified species, it has roughly...

 bird
Bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

 breeding in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and western Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and wintering in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

.

Its scientific name means "small rock-dweller", in reference to its habitat
Habitat
* Habitat , a place where a species lives and grows*Human habitat, a place where humans live, work or play** Space habitat, a space station intended as a permanent settlement...

. Saxicola derives from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 saxum ("rock") + incola ("dwelling"); rubetra is a Latin term for a small bird.

Description



The Whinchat is similar in size to its relative the European Robin
European Robin
The European Robin , most commonly known in Anglophone Europe simply as the Robin, is a small insectivorous passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family , but is now considered to be an Old World flycatcher...

 (Erithacus rubecula), 12–14 cm long and 13–26 g weight. Both sexes have brownish upperparts mottled darker, a buff throat and breast, a pale buff to whitish belly, and a blackish tail with white bases to the outer tail feathers.

The male in breeding plumage has blackish face mask almost encircled by a strong white supercilium
Supercilium
The supercilium is a plumage feature found on the heads of some bird species. It is a stripe which runs from the base of the bird's beak above its eye, finishing somewhere towards the rear of the bird's head. Also known as an "eyebrow", it is distinct from the eyestripe, which is a line which runs...

 and malar
Malar
Malar may refer to:* Malar, Iran, a city in Iran* Malar, Pakistan, a town in Pakistan* Malar , a deity in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons* Relating to the cheek...

 stripe, a bright orange-buff throat and breast, and small white wing patches on the greater coverts and inner median coverts. The female is duller overall, in particular having browner face mask, pale buffy-brown breast, and a buff supercilium and malar stripe, and smaller or no white wing patches. Males in immature and winter plumage and are similar to females, except that adult males retain the white wing patches all year.

Though fairly similar to females and immatures of the European Stonechat
European Stonechat
The European Stonechat is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a subspecies of the Common Stonechat. Long considered a member of the thrush family Turdidae, genetic evidence has placed it and its relatives in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae.It is 11.5–13 cm long and...

 S. rubicola, the Whinchat can readily be distinguished by its conspicuous supercilium and whiter belly, and also in western Europe, by being paler overall than the western European Stonechat subspecies S. rubicola hibernans. It also differs structurally in being slightly slimmer and less 'dumpy', and having longer wingtips (an adaptation to its long-distance migration). It is more easily confused with female or immature Siberian Stonechat
Siberian Stonechat
The Siberian Stonechat or Asian Stonechat is a recently-validated species of the Old World flycatcher family . Like the other thrush-like flycatchers, it was often placed in the Turdidae in the past...

 S. maura, which (also being a long-distance migrant) shares the longer wingtips; however, Siberian Stonechat can be distinguished by its conspicuous unmarked pale orange-buff rump (in Whinchat, the rump is the same mottled brown colour as the back).

Its main call is a hue-tac-tac, the 'tac' softer and less grating than that of the European Stonechat; the call is used both for contact between birds and predator alarms. The male has a whistling, crackly but soft song used during the breeding season, consisting of a mixture of soft whistles, tacs and more grating sounds; it is often mimetic, including phrases from the songs of at least 12 other assorted bird species. On the wintering grounds, it often gives alarm calls but only occasionally sings, particularly at the end of winter when starting spring migration.

Distribution and status



The Whinchat is a migratory species breeding in Europe and western Asia from Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 and northern Portugal
Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 east to the Ob River
Ob River
The Ob River , also Obi, is a major river in western Siberia, Russia and is the world's seventh longest river. It is the westernmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean .The Gulf of Ob is the world's longest estuary.-Names:The Ob is known to the Khanty people as the...

 basin near Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk is the third-largest city in Russia, after Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the largest city of Siberia, with a population of 1,473,737 . It is the administrative center of Novosibirsk Oblast as well as of the Siberian Federal District...

, and from northern Norway
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 south to central Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

, central Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, northern Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, and the Caucasus Mountains
Caucasus Mountains
The Caucasus Mountains is a mountain system in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region .The Caucasus Mountains includes:* the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range and* the Lesser Caucasus Mountains....

.

Birds arrive on the breeding grounds between the end of April and mid May, and depart between mid August and mid September (odd birds lingering to October). They winter primarily in tropical sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

 from Senegal
Senegal
Senegal , officially the Republic of Senegal , is a country in western Africa. It owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north...

 east to Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

 and south to Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

, arriving in western Africa at the start of the dry season
Dry season
The dry season is a term commonly used when describing the weather in the tropics. The weather in the tropics is dominated by the tropical rain belt, which oscillates from the northern to the southern tropics over the course of the year...

 in late September to November, and leaving between February and March. Small numbers also winter in northwestern Africa in Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

, northern Algeria
Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 and Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

.

Fairly common across its wide range, the Whinchat is classified as a species of Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

 by the IUCN. Some populations are however in serious decline, particularly in the west of its range in Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, Ireland, France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, primarily due to agricultural intensification
Intensive farming
Intensive farming or intensive agriculture is an agricultural production system characterized by the high inputs of capital, labour, or heavy usage of technologies such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers relative to land area....

. In Britain it is amber-listed with an unfavourable conservation status; it all but disappeared from former lowland breeding areas in the south and east between surveys in 1968-72 and 1988-91, remaining common only in upland areas of the north and west where low-intensity livestock
Livestock
Livestock refers to one or more domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor. The term "livestock" as used in this article does not include poultry or farmed fish; however the inclusion of these, especially poultry, within the meaning...

 rearing is the main land use.

Vagrants have reached northwest of the breeding range to Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

, west on migration to the Canary Islands
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

 and Cape Verde
Cape Verde
The Republic of Cape Verde is an island country, spanning an archipelago of 10 islands located in the central Atlantic Ocean, 570 kilometres off the coast of Western Africa...

, and south of the wintering range to northern South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

.

Ecology



The Whinchat favours rough low vegetation habitats such as open rough pasture or similar minimally cultivated grassland
Grassland
Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

 with scattered small shrubs such as Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), and Bracken
Bracken
Bracken are several species of large, coarse ferns of the genus Pteridium. Ferns are vascular plants that have alternating generations, large plants that produce spores and small plants that produce sex cells . Brackens are in the family Dennstaedtiaceae, which are noted for their large, highly...

 (Pteridium aquilinum) or Heather (Calluna vulgaris) stands on rock-strewn ground. They also commonly use new and clear-felled conifer plantation
Plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

s until the new tree crop is about 5–6 years old and a metre or two tall. It always needs at least a few perching points (shrubs, tall weeds, or fenceposts) to scan from for food and use as songposts. It nests in dense low vegetation, laying from four to seven eggs, which hatch after 11–14 days. The young leave the nest on foot 10–14 days after hatching, while still too young to fly; they then fledge at 17–19 days after hatching and remain largely dependent on the parents for up to a further two weeks after fledging. Whinchats are short-lived, typically only surviving two years, to a maximum recorded of just over five years; breeding starts when birds are a year old. Predators include Weasel
Least Weasel
The least weasel is the smallest member of the Mustelidae , native to Eurasia, North America and North Africa, though it has been introduced elsewhere. It is classed as Least Concern by the IUCN, due to its wide distribution and presumably large population...

s, Stoat
Stoat
The stoat , also known as the ermine or short-tailed weasel, is a species of Mustelid native to Eurasia and North America, distinguished from the least weasel by its larger size and longer tail with a prominent black tip...

s, and small raptor
Bird of prey
Birds of prey are birds that hunt for food primarily on the wing, using their keen senses, especially vision. They are defined as birds that primarily hunt vertebrates, including other birds. Their talons and beaks tend to be relatively large, powerful and adapted for tearing and/or piercing flesh....

s such as the Merlin
Merlin (bird)
The Merlin is a small species of falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. A bird of prey once known colloquially as a pigeon hawk in North America, the Merlin breeds in the northern Holarctic; some migrate to subtropical and northern tropical regions in winter.-European and North American...

 and nest predators such as crows and magpies
Corvidae
Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. The common English names used are corvids or the crow family , and there are over 120 species...

. Nests are also lost due to agricultural operations such as silage
Silage
Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be fed to ruminants or used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It is fermented and stored in a process called ensiling or silaging, and is usually made from grass crops, including corn , sorghum or other cereals, using the entire...

 cutting (the main factor in the species' decline in western Europe) or trampling by livestock, and are sometimes parasitised by Cuckoos
Common Cuckoo
The Common Cuckoo is a member of the cuckoo order of birds, Cuculiformes, which includes the roadrunners, the anis and the coucals....

.

Whinchats are insectivorous
Insectivore
An insectivore is a type of carnivore with a diet that consists chiefly of insects and similar small creatures. An alternate term is entomophage, which also refers to the human practice of eating insects....

, feeding largely (about 80-90%) on insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s, but also a wide range of other invertebrates including spider
Spider
Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms...

s, small snail
Snail
Snail is a common name applied to most of the members of the molluscan class Gastropoda that have coiled shells in the adult stage. When the word is used in its most general sense, it includes sea snails, land snails and freshwater snails. The word snail without any qualifier is however more often...

s and worm
Worm
The term worm refers to an obsolete taxon used by Carolus Linnaeus and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck for all non-arthropod invertebrate animals, and stems from the Old English word wyrm. Currently it is used to describe many different distantly-related animals that typically have a long cylindrical...

s. It also eats small amounts of fruit
Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

 such as blackberries
Blackberry
The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by any of several species in the Rubus genus of the Rosaceae family. The fruit is not a true berry; botanically it is termed an aggregate fruit, composed of small drupelets. The plants typically have biennial canes and perennial roots. Blackberries and...

, primarily in autumn. The birds like to perch on elevated spots such as shrubs, from where they make sallies to catch insects, mostly taken off the ground, but also flying insects. While so perched, males in particular frequently flick their tail and sometimes their wings to show the white tail and wing flashes, for display or territorial communication signals to other Whinchats.

Adult Whinchats have a single complex complete moult in late summer (late July onward) after breeding and mainly completed before southbound migration. Juveniles have a partial moult at the same time, growing new body feathering but retaining the flight feathers. All ages also have a partial moult in early spring on the wintering grounds before northbound migration.

Systematics


This species represents a fairly basal
Basal (phylogenetics)
In phylogenetics, a basal clade is the earliest clade to branch in a larger clade; it appears at the base of a cladogram.A basal group forms an outgroup to the rest of the clade, such as in the following example:...

 divergence of the genus Saxicola
Saxicola
The genus Saxicola , the stonechats or chats, is a genus of 15 species of small passerine birds restricted to the Old World...

. It retains the supercilium found in many Muscicapidae but lost in the more derived Saxicola species such as the European Stonechat or African Stonechat
African Stonechat
The African Stonechat is a species of the Old World flycatcher family , inhabiting sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent regions. Like the other chats, it was long assigned to the thrush family , to which the chats are convergent...

 (S. torquatus).

As with other species of Saxicola, it was formerly considered a member of the thrush
Thrush (bird)
The thrushes, family Turdidae, are a group of passerine birds that occur worldwide.-Characteristics:Thrushes are plump, soft-plumaged, small to medium-sized birds, inhabiting wooded areas, and often feed on the ground or eat small fruit. The smallest thrush may be the Forest Rock-thrush, at and...

 family (Turdidae), but is now placed in the Old World flycatcher
Old World flycatcher
The Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae is a large family of small passerine birds mostly restricted to the Old World. These are mainly small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing.-Characteristics:...

 family Muscicapidae. It, and similar thrush-like Muscicapidae species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

, are often called chat
Chat (bird)
Chats are a group of small Old World insectivorous birds formerly classed as members of the thrush family Turdidae, but now considered Old World flycatchers....

s.

Very rarely, hybridisation between Whinchat and Siberian Stonechat occurs, with a case in reported Finland in 1997.