Male blue rock thrush

Beauty blues

Back in May 2019, I briefly mentioned in my article that a pair of blue rock thrushes had appeared to have taken residence in a nearby ruin, which I named Bluey and Roxy. However, soon after this article, they disappeared. Since then, I have occasionally spotted a male in the same area and even visiting the garden, but no sign of a female.

The inspiration to write about them this month was a visit from a female to the garden whilst I was drinking my morning coffee at 7.30am. Are they the same pair? I have no idea, but they are still being named Bluey and Roxy.

Both birds are often and easily missed as they are a similar size to a blackbird or starling. However, once you spot a male in the right light, you cannot miss his amazing breeding colours. Outside of the breeding season, the vibrance of the blue fades.

Belonging to the Chat family, the blue rock thrush is a resident bird (it does not migrate) and can be spotted all-year round. As the name suggests, they prefer rocky mountainous areas to breed which can include cavities in rocky terrain or buildings with suitable holes. Given the vast choice of ruins in the Algarve hills, these provide perfect, ready-made nesting sites. This favoured rocky terrain also includes coastal cliffs and I spotted a male a few months ago near the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Rocha, the popular clifftop church, near Porches.

There are five subspecies of the blue rock thrush found throughout the world. Our local species, the Monticola solitarius (which translates to Solitary Mountain Dweller), is found throughout southern Europe and Northwest Africa and is also the national bird of Malta.

Being a similar size to a starling, both sexes grow up to 23cm in length. There are always two important points which usually have me grabbing for the binoculars – firstly, being solitary, they are not found in flocks and, secondly, the blue rock thrush has a long slim bill which I often see them holding slightly open.

Whilst the male is predominantly blue, his wings are black whereas the female has no blue colouring but is similar to a female blackbird with dark brown upper feathers and a lighter brown underside with darker streaks. Both sexes of juveniles are similar to the female.

Although uncommonly seen, they are usually always perched in the open on rocks or, more commonly, roofs and telephone/electricity poles where they rigorously defend their territory from all other bird species. They also use these vantage points to spot their prey of large insects, spiders, and reptiles, and it has even been known for them to catch small mice.

They normally swoop down on their prey on the ground, but I have also watched them catch flying insects in the air and, in fact, the other morning I was watching the female do just that. They are omnivores and also eat fruit and seeds.

Both sexes can sing (the male more so), and it is a melodic flute-like sound which can be heard whilst perched and also during flight. The call is a soft whistle sound with alternating pitches. Singing is usually heard more frequently from February through to June.

Breeding is usually during springtime but often a second brood can occur in early summer. The female lays between three to six eggs, with the incubation usually performed by the female for two weeks with the hatchlings fed by both parents for two weeks before fledging, where feeding continues for another two weeks.

Although not a rare bird, they are either sporadic or simply easily missed due to misidentification. However, if you keep a look out for solitary birds perched on roof tops and telegraph poles, you may be lucky to spot one!

By Craig Rogers
|| features@algarveresident.com

Craig Rogers is a wildlife and nature photographer from Wales now living in the Algarve, offering photography workshops. For more information, photographs and his blog visit www.craigrogers.photography

Male blue rock thrush in breeding colours
Female blue rock thrush typically perched
Male blue rock thrush
Female blue rock thrush