The Pied Bushchat (Saxicola caprata) is a small passerine bird found ranging from West and Central Asia to South and Southeast Asia. About sixteen subspecies are recognized through its wide range with many island forms. It is a familiar bird of countryside and open scrub or grassland where it is found perched at the top of short thorn trees or other shrubs, looking out for insect prey. They pick up insects mainly from the ground, and were, like other chats, placed in the thrush family Turdidae, but are now considered as Old World flycatchers.
They nest in cavities in stone walls or in holes in an embankment, with a nest lined with grass and animal hair. The males are black with white shoulder and vent patches whose extent varies among the subspecies. Females are predominantly brownish while juveniles are speckled.
Female of race bicolor, India.
The Pied Bushchat is slightly smaller than the Siberian Stonechat, Saxicola maurus, although it has a similar dumpy structure and upright stance. The male is black except for a white rump, wing patch and lower belly. The iris is dark brown, the bill and legs black. The female is drab brown and slightly streaked. Juveniles have a scaly appearance on the underside but dark above like the females.
A number of races have been described:
- nominate caprata (Linnaeus, 1766) is found in Luzon and Mindoro, in the Philippines.
- rossorum (Hartert, 1910) is found in NE Iran SC Kazakhstan S to Afghanistan and Baluchistan; migrant in SW Asia (vagrant in Arabia, Israel).(shows more white below than bicolor, described by Hartert, Jour. f. Orn. 1910:180 but not always recognized)
- bicolor Sykes, 1832 is found in SE Iran, Pakistan and N India; migrating to central India and possibly southern India.
- burmanicus Stuart Baker, 1922 is found in peninsular India E to Myanmar and S China (S Sichuan, Yunnan), S to Thailand and Indochina. This has the white on the abdomen restricted towards the vent.
- nilgiriensis Whistler, 1940 is found in the Western Ghats and the Nilgiri Hills.
- atratus (Blyth, 1851) is restricted to Sri Lanka. This has a large bill.
Several insular forms have been described from Southeast Asia including
- randi Parkes, 1960 is found in the central Philippines (Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor).
- anderseni Salomonsen, 1953 found on Leyte and Mindanao, in the Philippines.
- fruticola Horsfield, 1821 found in Java E to Flores and Alor.
- francki Rensch, 1931 is found on the Sumba Islands
- pyrrhonotus (Vieillot, 1818) found in the E Lesser Sundas (Wetar, Kisar, Timor, Savu, Roti).
- albonotatus (Stresemann, 1912) found in Sulawesi (except N peninsula) and Salayer I.
- cognatus Mayr, 1944 on Babar Island.
- belensis Rand, 1940 in WC New Guinea.
- aethiops (P. L. Sclater, 1880) in N New Guinea and Bismarck Archipelago.
- wahgiensis Mayr & Gilliard, 1951 in EC & E New Guinea.
This species is closely related to the European-African Stonechat complex. S. c. fruticola from Indonesia (Moyo Island population appeared to be well differentiated from specimens from Lembata Island with a divergence estimated to about 360,000 years ago.), S. c. pyrrhonota from West Timor (Indonesia).
Local names include Kala pidda in Hindi Shyama in Gujarati Kavda gapidda in Marathi Kallu kuruvi in Tamil, Kampa nalanchi in Telugu. They were once popular in Bengal as cage birds. They are still found in the local bird trade of some parts of Southeast Asia.
Male bicolor from Faridabad
The Pied Bushchat is a resident breeder in tropical southern Asia from the Greater Middle East through Pakistan, India and Bangladesh eastwards to Indonesia. They colonized Papua New Guinea around 1950. It is found in open habitats including scrub, grassland and cultivation.
Some populations are migratory. A ringed individual of subspecies rossorum has been recovered from Israel.
The populations in India also appear to show seasonal changes but movements are unclear. In Karwar on the western coast, it is said to appear in October and stay till May but not seen during the rainy season. Said to be absent in the Baroda district of Gujarat from April to September. Claud Buchanan Ticehurst noted that it was a summer visitor to Baluchistan leaving in October and further that the birds from Baluchistan were indistinguishable from rossorum of Turkestan.
Behaviour and ecology
The breeding season is mainly February to August with a peak in March to June. The nest is built in a hole in a wall or similar site lined with grass and hair, and 2-5 eggs are laid. The eggs are small and broadly oval with pale bluish-white or pinkish ground colour and speckles and blotches towards the broad end. They measure about 0.67 by 0.55 inches.
Brood parasitism by the Common Cuckoo (race bakeri) has been noted to be common in the Shan State of Burma, with the cuckoo visiting the nest at dusk and removing an egg before quickly laying its own. The female has dark brown upperparts and rufous underparts and rump. She has no white wing patches. Juveniles are similar to females.
This species is insectivorous, and like other chats hunts from a prominent low perch. They have been noted to feed on Pyralid moths and whitefly.
Nematode parasites in the genus Acuaria have been noted. Adult birds have few predators although bats (Megaderma lyra) and wintering Asio flammeus have been noted to prey on them.