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Stonechat: A Question of Survival

Stonechat; to stay or to go? A question of survival.

Male Stonechats are striking robin-sized birds with black heads, white around the side of their neck, orange-red breast and a mottled brown back.   Females lack the male's black head but have brown backs and an orange tinge to their chests.  Birds are frequently seen flicking their wings while perched, often doing so on the tops of low bushes.  As its name suggests, birds utter a sharp loud call that sound like two stones being tapped together.  Their Gaelic name, clacharan, is appropriate.  These are not one of your skulking species of bird.

In Scotland, Stonechat is at the northern limit of its European range and the influence of weather on its population and distribution is well documented.  Following a series of severe winters, the resident population of Stonechat can be practically wiped out.  However, the species is a prolific breeder.  The breeding season is prolonged from April to July.  Resident pairs are frequently triple brooded and migrants double brooded.  From the residual population the species will re-establish itself, particularly if there are then a series of mild winters.

On Arran, Stonechat are found in coastal scrub often gorse and also inland on heather-clad hillsides.  Thick cover is required for nesting along with suitable perches from which to sing, display or use as a look out.  On Arran, the Stonechat is a resident breeder and a migrant.  While some birds occupy their territories all year, both inland and on the coast, others leave Arran to spend the winter in southern Europe or North Africa. While there are risks in staying to face a cold winter, there are risks in under-taking a lengthy migration.

Further evidence for this migration was provided in 2023 by Terry Southall and the local ringing group when a Stonechat ringed as a juvenile on Arran in August 2023 was seen and photographed in Spain a few weeks later. More information on this will be provided in the 2023 annual bird report produced by the Arran Natural History Society. Look out for the report in local shops in the lead up to Easter.
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