The first returning Whinchat was a female which arrived back in Argyll on 21st April at Arduaine found by LNHG members Darren and Karen Thomas. They were widespread by the end of the month but not in large numbers for this species has shown a marked decline in more recent years.
The Whinchat is a summer visitor to UK heathlands, moorlands and open meadows. It looks similar to the Stonechat, but is lighter in colour and has a distinctive pale eyestripe. A dumpy chat, a little smaller than a Robin, the Whinchat has quite a big head and a short tail. It can frequently be seen sitting on fence posts or small bushes, making a soft clicking call. Whinchats inhabit open meadows and moorland, wet habitats and dry heath. They are summer and passage migrants, wintering in Africa.
Generally paler than the similar Stonechat, the Whinchat has a distinctive pale eyestripe and a pale throat. Males are streaky brown above, with an orange chest, but females are paler. Whinchats have pale patches at the base of the tail, while Stonechat tails are completely dark. A summer visitor to the north and west which can turn up anywhere during migration. Whin’ is another name for Gorse and is the habitat in which Whinchat are often found breeding.
It really is a real birdwatcher’s bird with its big head, short tail, prominent plumage and subtle song. Unfortunately, it is classified in the UK as a Red List species, having the highest conservation priority and Whinchat numbers in Britain have more than halved in the last twenty years, the cause being suggested is the loss of farmland habitats.
Their diet largely consists of insects including larvae, spiders, caterpillars, beetles, worms, snails and flies. In the autumn and winter months, they also feed on berries and some seeds. Chats tend to hop around on the ground or perch on top of low bushes which makes it an enjoyable bird to watch. Its soft call will resemble “hueet-tic-tic, hueet tic-tic, tic-tic”.
Click here to listen to the song of the Whinchat :-