It is a 14–16 cm long bird named for its black tail, which is frequently fanned; the rest of its plumage is bluish-grey or grey-brown (North African races being browner, Middle Eastern races bluer). The sexes are similar, but the male on average has blacker lores. The song is a clear melancholy whistle: CHURlee...TRUloo...CHURlee...TRUlur..., with short phrases from the song used as a call.
It is a species of rocky deserts and mountain slopes which nests in a rock crevice where it lays its 3–5 eggs. It feeds on insects, taken mainly on the ground.
The blackstart is a confident species, unafraid of man.
The blackstart is included as the type species in the genus Cercomela. Molecular phylogenetic studies published in 2010 and 2012 found that the genus Cercomela was polyphyletic with five species, including the blackstart, phylogenetically nested within the genus Oenanthe, but many taxonomists continue to place the bird in Cercomela.
- In Egypt, the blackstart is common in the Sinai peninsula
- In Israel the species is primarily found in the Negev Desert, Arava Valley and Dead Sea areas; it is present in areas of the Jordan River valley further north, but is scarcer there.
- In Jordan, the species is only found in western parts of the country, in areas from the Jordan River valley south through the Dead Sea region to the Arava Valley and Aqaba Mountains.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Cercomela melanura". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Outlaw, R.K.; Voelker, G.; Bowie, R.C.K. (2010). "Shall we chat? Evolutionary relationships in the genus Cercomela (Muscicapidae) and its relation to Oenanthe reveals extensive polyphyly among chats distributed in Africa, India and the Palearctic". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 55 (1): 284–292. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.09.023. PMID 19772925.
- Aliabadian, M.; Kaboli, M.; Förschler, M.I.; Nijman, V.; Chamani, A.; Tillier, A.; Prodon, R.; Pasquet, E.; Ericson, P.G.P.; Zuccon, D. (2012). "Convergent evolution of morphological and ecological traits in the open-habitat chat complex (Aves, Muscicapidae: Saxicolinae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 65 (1): 35–45. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2012.05.011. PMID 22634240.
- Andrews, Ian J. (1995) The Birds of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Shirihai, Hadoram (1996) The Birds of Israel