Saxicola rubicola (Linnaeus, 1766)
Family: Passeriformes > Muscicapidae
The Stonechat is a strikingly patterned small chat often seen perched prominently on gorse in their favoured heathland habitat.
This species has undergone dramatic change in distribution over the last few decades. In winter, the species distribution has increased to cover 80% of the UK, whilst the breeding range is creeping eastwards from its western strongholds. The species is found throughout the island of Ireland all through the year, although again western areas form its core range.
Stonechat is a partial migrant, with many birds staying here all year, and some migrating to southern Europe and North Africa. It is thought that a series of mild winters favours those birds that stay behind, and that beneficial habitat changes through early stage plantations enable Stonechats to increase their breeding range.
Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Stonechat
Stonechat identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Stonechat.
This identification video looks at Whinchat, Stonechat and Wheatear. These three birds are not too difficult to separate in breeding male plumage, but a lot harder in female and juvenile. Check out our tips to help here.
Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Stonechat, provided by xeno-canto contributors.
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Status and Trends
Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.
This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.
Trends were poorly quantified before the start of the BBS, but a long-term decline is suspected in the preceding decades: severe winter weather, and loss and fragmentation of suitable breeding habitat in many inland regions, are believed to have reduced the population from the 1940s onward (Marchant et al. 1990). Breeding atlas data showed a substantial contraction in the Stonechat's range between 1968-72 and 1988-91 (Gibbons et al. 1993). Against this background, the strongly increasing BBS trend to 2006 represents substantial and possibly even complete recovery. By 2008-11, the earlier range losses had been almost entirely reversed (Balmer et al. 2013). Atlas and BBS data reveal complex shifts recently in the Stonechat's range, involving expansion northward and on the west coast and a detectable increase in altitude (Henderson et al. 2014). In 2012 and 2013, BTO conducted a Wales Chat Survey for Whinchats, Stonechats and Wheatears. Stonechats were associated with a broad mix of herbaceous cover, bracken, heather or shrubs, and the population was estimated at 12,082 pairs (95% CIs: 5,173-22,926), representing a likely increase compared with previous estimates based on different methods (Henderson et al. 2017).
Following increases widely across Europe, the species is now provisionally categorised as 'secure' (BirdLife International 2004) and consequently has recently been moved from the amber to the green list in the UK (Eaton et al. 2009). UK data from about 2008 to 2012 indicate a sharp decrease, however, partly in response to snowy winters during that period. Numbers across Europe have been broadly stable since 1989 (PECBMS: PECBMS 2020a).
|UK breeding population
|+147% increase (1995–2020)
Stonechats breed in virtually all 10-km squares in northern and western Britain, as well as on lowland heathland in southeast England. In Ireland they breed in almost three quarters of 10-km squares, particularly in the west and along the east coast. Densities are highest in northern and western uplands and on a few lowland heathland areas. In winter they can be very widespread provided they are not impacted by cold weather. During 2007–11 they were recorded in 81% of 10-km squares.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season
|% occupied in breeding season
|No. occupied in winter
|% occupied in winter
European Distribution Map
Breeding Season Habitats
|Most frequent in
|Also common in
Relative frequency by habitat
The Stonechats winter range more than doubled in size from the early 1980s to 2007–11
Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK
|% change in range in breeding season (1968–72 to 2008–11)
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.
Lifecycle and body size information about Stonechat, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.
|67.4±1.8 | Range 65–70mm, N=829
|67.5±1.7 | Range 65-70mm, N=874
|68±1.5 | Range 66–70mm, N=457
|66.6±1.8 | Range 64–69mm, N=365
|15.8±1.25 | Range 14.1–18.0g, N=765
|15.5±1.2092 | Range 13.8–17.5g, N=787
|15.5±1.01 | Range 14.1–17.3g, N=420
|16.2±1.41 | Range 14.2–19.0g, N=338
Feather measurements and photos on featherbase
|2-letter: SC | 5-letter code: STOCH | Euring: 11390
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Interpretation and scientific publications about Stonechat from BTO scientists.
Causes of change
The effect of severe winter weather on survival and changes in productivity could both have contributed to changes, although this is speculative and there is little good evidence available to confirm the most important driver or drivers of the breeding population change in this species in the UK.
Further information on causes of change
Severe winter weather, and loss and fragmentation of suitable breeding habitat in many inland regions, are believed to have reduced the population from the 1940s onward, and severe winter weather is likely to have been an important diver behind the sharp decline which occurred between 2008 and 2011. Nest failure rates fell during the 1990s and clutch and brood sizes increased, coinciding with a period of population increase and suggesting that the changes of productivity could have contributed to the increases. The productivity changes have since been reversed, and there is now no trend in the number of fledglings per breeding attempt.
Information about conservation actions
Numbers of Stonechat have fluctuated and it is not currently a species of conservation concern. The main driver of change is unknown, although the sharp decline between 2008 and 2011 was probably caused by severe winter weather. No specific conservation actions have been proposed to benefit the Stonechat.
Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com
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