Field characters: 18.5 cm; wing-span 33–37 cm. 10% smaller than Redwing and Blue Rock Thrush.
Breeds in west Palearctic in lower middle latitudes in continental warm temperate, steppe and Mediterranean montane zones, on sunny, dry often stony hollows or terraces, preferably dotted with stunted trees or shrubs serving as perches. In southern Switzerland, also on rocky heaths and in vineyards from 500 m, but mainly at 1500–2700 m. Forages over some distance from nest, down to hayfields and farmland, using rocks, walls, roofs of buildings, and bare branches or treetops as hunting look-outs. In Spain, nests on barren hillsides with boulders and crags, chiefly at c. 1250–2300 m. In Germany, as elsewhere towards north of European range, many sites occupied last century (e.g. ruined castles on the Rhine, heaps of debris) were deserted before or soon after its end. In winter in tropical west Africa, lives in savanna and in erosion areas with scattered low bushes and stony gullies, or better-wooded land, even gardens.
Long-term decline in range (especially southward contraction) and numbers; causes unclear, but probably include loss of habitat (breeding and perhaps winter) and possibly climatic change. Recent range decrease reported from Slovakia, Hungary, Iberia, Ukraine, and Moldova.
Mostly large insects (especially beetles, Lepidoptera larvae, and Orthoptera); also a variety of berries. Feeds mainly by flying from perch (rock, tree, etc.) on to prey on ground; may eat several items while on ground, sometimes running or hopping a few metres between each before returning to perch.
Social pattern and behaviour
Usually solitary. Small loose-knit flocks, notably of young birds, occur on spring migration. In winter, Tanzania, ? and ? probably defend separate territories. No evidence for other than monogamous mating system. Pair-bond presumably breaks down outside breeding season, but may be renewed for several years on breeding grounds. Song-display mainly by ?, much less often ?, given perched, in song-flight, or normal flight. Song from perch often a response to intrusion by nearby ?, leading to song-duel. Song-flight begins from perch. ? takes off suddenly, initially staying low, then ascends steeply with slow powerful wing-beats. Bird begins singing during ascent, reaching maximum output at top of ascent where bird soars, flutters rapidly, and typically introduces mimicry into song; then suddenly plummets, not singing, for 15–20 m with wings and tail outspread. Usually, bird does not land after descent but, apparently using momentum of plummet, ascends for a 2nd song-flight, less high, however, than 1st. Depending on intensity, bird repeats song-flight 2–3 times or more. Song-flight always ends on perch, with low variant of song.
Song, given by both sexes but mainly by ?, similar to Blue Rock Thrush, but softer and more flowing. Comprises melodious fluting phrases, often with obvious mimicry. Many species mimicked, Chaffinch song most regularly. Contact-alarm call single or short series of ‘tak’ sounds, often accompanied by tail-flicking. Warning- and alarm-calls include a plaintive mournful pipe, not unlike Bullfinch, and in greater alarm, an emphatic rapidly repeated ‘schack-schack’.
Earliest eggs late April, main season May–June, apparently throughout range. 1–2 broods.
Horizontal crevice in rock-face, wall, ruin, or crag, under boulder on steeply sloping ground, or occasionally in tree-hole. Nest: neat cup of grass, rootlets, and moss, lined with finer rootlets and moss.
Sub-elliptical, smooth and glossy; pale blue, often unmarked, or with some faint speckles of red-brown at broad end. Clutch: 4–5(–6).
BirdLife International/European Bird Census Council (2000) European Bird Populations: Estimates and Trends. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 10. BirdLife International, Cambridge.
Shirahai (1996) The birds of Israel. Academic Press, London.
Birds of the Western Paleartic. Oxford University Press