African Stonechat

Information about the Bird African Stonechat

In the past S. torquatus usually referred to the entire "common stonechat" superspecies and some sources still keep it that way, but all available evidence strongly supports full species status for the European (S. rubicola) and the Siberian stonechat (S. maurus) of temperate Eurasia, in addition to the island-endemics Fuerteventura chat (S. dacotiae) and Runion stonechat (S. tectes) which were never unequivocally accepted into S. torquata. The Madagascan stonechat is also considered distinct. In addition, the well-marked populations of the Horn of Africa uplands may well qualify for an additional species.The African stonechat or common stonechat (Saxicola torquatus) is a species of the Old World flycatcher family (Muscicapidae), inhabiting sub-Saharan Africa and adjacent regions. Like the other chats, it was long assigned to the thrush family (Turdidae), to which the chats are convergent. Its scientific name refer to its appearance and habitat and means "collared rock-dweller": Saxicola from Latin saxum ("rock") + incola ("one who dwells in a place"), torquatus, Latin for "collared".

The closest relative of this species are apparently not the Eurasian populations but the Runion stonechat (S. tectes), but still the "white-collared" Saxicola form a distinct group in the genus. S. torquatus and S. tectes form a sub-Saharan African lineage that diverged from the Eurasian one in the Late Pliocene, roughly 2.5 million years ago. Runion was colonized shortly thereafter, indicating a rapid expansion along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. With the Sahara drying out in the subsequent Quaternary glaciation, the African and Eurasian populations became isolated for good.
The recent separation as species was proposed after mtDNA cytochrome b sequence and nDNA microsatellite fingerprinting analysis of specimens of the subspecies Saxicola torquatus axillaris but not S. t. torquatus, and hence this species was briefly known as S. axillaris.
The subspecies differ slightly in size, and more in the extent of the orange-red on the upper breast of the males, and whether the lower breast is white with a distinct boundary from the upper breast, or pale orange with an indistinct boundary from the darker upper breast. The extent of the orange-red also varies with time of year, often extending on to the belly outside the breeding season.
The males have a black head, a white half-collar, a black back, a white rump, and a black tail; the wings are black with a large white patch on the top side of the inner wing. The upper breast is usually dark orange-red, with a sharp or gradual transition to white or pale orange on the lower breast and belly depending on subspecies. In a few, black replaces the orange breast feathers in part or entirely.
Females have brown rather than black above and on the head with an indistinct paler eyebrow line, chestnut-buff rather than orange below, and less white on the wings. Both sexes' plumage is somewhat duller and streakier outside the breeding season.
It has a scattered distribution across much of sub-Saharan Africa, occurring locally as far north as Senegal and Ethiopia. Outlying populations are found the mountains of southwest Arabia and on Madagascar and Grande Comore. It is non-migratory, moving only locally if at all. As a result, it has developed much regional variation, being divided into about 15 subspecies.

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