Brown rock chat

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Brown rock chat
Brown rock chat (Oenanthe fusca).jpg
Bateshwar Temples, Uttar Pradesh
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Oenanthe
O. fusca
Binomial name
Oenanthe fusca
(Blyth, 1851)

Cercomela fusca

The brown rock chat (Oenanthe fusca) or Indian chat is a bird species of the family Muscicapidae. It is found mainly in northern and central India. It is often found on old buildings and rocky areas. It resembles a female Indian robin but lacks the reddish vent and differs in posture and behaviour apart from being larger. In flight it bears some resemblance to thrushes and redstarts. It feeds on insects, captured mainly on the ground. It was formerly placed as the sole species in the genus Cercomela but is now included with the wheatears in the genus Oenanthe.

Taxonomy and systematics[edit]


Oenanthe fusca

Oenanthe picata


Oenanthe finschii

Oenanthe lugens

Oenanthe xanthoprymna

Oenanthe alboniger


Oenanthe leucura

Oenanthe leucopyga


Oenanthe melanura

Oenanthe familiaris

The close relatives of the brown rock chat.[2]

The species was described by Edward Blyth in 1851 under the binomial name Saxicola fusca based on a specimen from Mathura ("Muttra" in original).[3] It is considered to be monotypic although Walter Koelz suggested a new subspecies ruinarum in 1939 based on a specimen from Bhopal.[4][5] It was the only species of Cercomela found outside Africa and its placement was questioned in the past.[6] Molecular phylogenetic studies in 2010 and 2012 found that the genus Cercomela was polyphyletic, with five species, including the brown rock chat, nested within the genus Oenanthe.[2][7] As part of a reorganization of the species to create monophyletic genera, the brown rock chat was assigned to the genus Oenanthe.[8][9]

In central India, the local name of Shama has been noted.[10]


Brown rock chats are often found near human habitation.

The brown rock chat is about 17 cm long, larger than the somewhat similar-looking Indian robin. It is uniformly rufous brown with the wings and tail of a slightly darker shade. The brown on the undersides grades into a dark grey-brown vent.[11] The beak is slender and is slightly curved at the tip. The second primary is the longest and the tail is rounded. In flight it resembles a female blue rock thrush. The sexes are indistinguishable in the field.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The species is nearly endemic to India, distributed north of the Narmada, west to Gujarat (mainly Kutch but extending south[12]) and east to Bengal bordered on the north by the Himalayas where it is found up to about 1300 m in the foothills. Its distribution extends into northern Pakistan west to the Chenab River. Although largely resident, some populations make movements in response to weather. In the foothills of the Himalayas it moves higher up in summer, appearing in Dehra Dun in spring and leaving before the onset of winter. The species has been seen in Nepal. It is a common species although very patchily distributed.[13]

It usually found singly or in pairs on old buildings or rocky areas.


Diet and feeding[edit]

The brown rock chat feeds mainly on insects, picked off the ground.[13][14] They have been known to feed late and forage on insects attracted to artificial lighting.[15] When feeding on the ground it sometimes flicks open its wings and tail. It also has a habit of slowly raising its tail slightly, fanning it and bobbing its head.


Brown rock chats have a wide repertoire of calls. Nearly eight different kinds of calls have been noted, including territorial calls, begging calls, feeding calls, alarm calls, threat calls, contact calls, distress calls, roosting calls and emergence calls.[16] The most common call is a short whistled chee delivered with a rapid bob and stretch, and the alarm call is a harsh chek-check.

The song is thrush-like with a number of notes, often including imitations of the calls and songs of other bird species including the yellow-eyed babbler, black-winged cuckooshrike and Tickell's blue flycatcher.[13]


The breeding season extends from spring to summer and more than one brood is raised. The nest is a cup of grass, hair and clods placed in a ledge in a roadside cutting, wall or window, sometimes even on occupied houses. The foundation of the nest is made up of pebbles and clay.[17][18] The nests are guarded against intruders and the parents will chase palm squirrels and other birds that approach too close. The usual clutch is three to four pale blue eggs which are incubated by the female alone. The young leave the nest about two weeks after hatching.[13]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Oenanthe fusca". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22710376A132087417. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22710376A132087417.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b 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.
  3. ^ Blythe, Edward (1851). "Notice of a collection of mammalia, birds, and reptiles procured at or near the station of Chérra Punji in the Khásia Hills, north of Sylhet". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 20: 523.
  4. ^ Koelz, W (1939). "New birds from Asia, chiefly from India". Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 52: 61–82 [66].
  5. ^ Deignan, H.G.; R.A. Paynter Jr. & S. D. Ripley (1964). Check-list of birds of the world. Volume 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology.
  6. ^ Oates, EW (1890). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 2. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 79–80.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2016). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  9. ^ Alaei Kakhki, Niloofar; Aliabadian, Mansour; Schweizer, Manuel (2016). "Out of Africa: Biogeographic history of the open-habitat chats (Aves, Muscicapidae: Saxicolinae) across arid areas of the old world". Zoologica Scripta. 45 (3): 237. doi:10.1111/zsc.12151. S2CID 85657033.
  10. ^ Baker, ECS (1924). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 2 (2nd ed.). London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 54–55.
  11. ^ Rasmussen PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 408.
  12. ^ Khacher, Lavkumar (2000). "Brown Rock Chat Cercomela fusca: extension of range into Gujarat". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 40 (3): 41.
  13. ^ a b c d Ali, Salim; Sidney Dillon Ripley (1998). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 9 (2nd ed.). New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 21–22.
  14. ^ Donahue, J.P. (1962). "Field identification of the Brown Rock Chat". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 2 (10): 5–6.
  15. ^ Singh, P. (2009). "Unusual nocturnal feeding by Brown Rock-chat Cercomela fusca (Passeriformes: Muscicapidae) in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 1 (4): 251. doi:10.11609/JoTT.o1852.251.
  16. ^ Sethi, V.K.; Bhatt, D. (2008). "Call repertoire of an endemic avian species, the Indian chat Cercomela fusca" (PDF). Current Science. 94 (9): 1173–1179.
  17. ^ White, L.S. (1919). "Nesting habits of the Brown Rockchat Cercomela fusca". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 26 (2): 667–668.
  18. ^ Mathews, W.H. (1919). "Nesting habits of the Brown Rockchat Cercomela fusca". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 26 (3): 843–844.

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