Saxicola rubetra Linnaeus, 1758 ♂
Common names: Whinchat [En], Traquet tarier, Tarier des prés [Fr], Paapje [Nl], Braunkehlchen [De], Stiaccino [It], Tarabilla Norteña [Es], Καστανολαίμης [Gr], Çayır taşçalanı [Tu]
IUCN Status: LC (Least Concern)
Alyki, MILOS ● Greece
Description: This species represents a fairly basal divergence of the genus Saxicola. It retains the supercilium found in many Muscicapidae but lost in the more derived Saxicola species such as the European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) or African stonechat (S. torquatus).
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 and malar 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, the whinchat can readily be distinguished by its conspicuous supercilium and whiter belly.
Biology: 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.
Whinchats are insectivorous, feeding largely (about 80-90%) on insects, but also a wide range of other invertebrates including spiders, small snails and worms. It also eats small amounts of fruit such as blackberries, primarily in autumn.
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.
Habitat: The whinchat favours rough low vegetation habitats such as open rough pasture or similar minimally cultivated grassland with scattered small shrubs. They also commonly use new and clear-felled conifer plantations 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.
Distribution: The whinchat is a migratory species breeding in Europe and western Asia.
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, arriving in western Africa at the start of the dry season in late September to November, and leaving between February and March.
Some populations are however in serious decline, particularly in the west of its range in Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, primarily due to agricultural intensification. Nests are also lost due to agricultural operations such as silage cutting, the main factor in the species' decline in western Europe.