White-throated bushchat (Saxicola insignis)

Also known as: Hodgson's Bushchat, White-throated Bush Chat
GenusSaxicola (1)

The white-throated bushchat is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Earning its name from its bright white throat, the white-throated bushchat (Saxicola insignis) is a small, shy species of Old World flycatcher. The head, cheeks, upper back and tail of this species are black, while the back of the neck and the lower part of the back are white. There is also a distinctive white band across the wing coverts. In addition, the white-throated bushchat has a reddish-orange breast and the white belly is tinged reddish (2).

The white-throated bushchat breeds in the mountains of Mongolia and an adjacent area of Russia. Before winter, this species migrates to the northern Gangetic plains of India and the Terai-Duar savannah and grasslands ecoregion of northern India and Nepal. It has been recorded on passage in northern and western China and Tibet (3) (4) (5).

The white-throated bushchat breeds in alpine or subalpine meadows with scattered scrub in the mountains of Mongolia and Russia (3) (4). This species generally favours areas of rocky outcrops and boulders, where there are small streams with many shallow ravines, gullies or gorges (4).

During winter, the white-throated bushchat inhabits wet or dry grasslands and reeds along riverbeds. It is commonly found in the open short-grass plains that are restricted to small areas of Nepal and northern India. It also frequently occurs in sugarcane fields (3) (4).

A fairly shy species, the white-throated bushchat generally forages alone or in loose pairs. It feeds primarily on insects, with its diet comprising mostly beetles and beetle larvae. The white-throated bushchat searches for its prey by perching on top of bushes or grasses and scanning for insects on the ground. It is also known to follow herds of swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli) and other moving animals, including humans, which disturb and flush out insects, on which the white-throated bushchat then preys (4).

The white-throated bushchat is intensely territorial during the breeding season and will fiercely defend small territories against intruders (3). It breeds from May to early June, with pairs nesting in rock clefts, crevices or holes, in the walls of river banks, ravines and gullies. The female lays a clutch of four or five eggs. Although the female carries out the incubation of the eggs, both adult white-throated bushchats take turns to feed the young (4) (6).

The major threat to the white-throated bushchat is the rapid and extensive loss, degradation and modification of grasslands in its wintering grounds (3) (4) (5) (7). Grassland habitat has declined throughout South Asia and remains under intense pressure, primarily as a result of drainage, conversion to agriculture, overgrazing and harvesting (3) (4). Recent heavy flooding in some areas has also destroyed further suitable habitat (3).

Many of the important grassland habitats in this region are restricted to protected areas; however, these are still poorly represented in protected area systems, and are often subject to inappropriate grassland management, including grazing, ploughing and excessive burning (3) (4) (8). While burning in moderation can have a positive effect on the white-throated bushchat, by producing a mosaic of cleared and uncleared areas, it can also eliminate suitable perches if not properly controlled (4).

Grasslands may also be negatively affected by climate change, which will have subsequent impact on the white-throated bushchat population (8).

The white-throated bushchat is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range, as well as their habitats and migration routes (3) (9). This species occurs in several protected areas, including Kaziranga, Corbett and Manas National Parks in India and the Lumbini Crane Sanctuary, Chitwan National Park and Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve in Nepal (3) (4). The white-throated bushchat has also been listed on the Russian Red Data Book (4).

Several conservation measures have been proposed for this species, including further surveys across its breeding and wintering range to identify important sites and potential threats. It has also been identified that existing protected areas should be extended and linked together where possible, and that new protected areas should be established to make sure that the remaining natural grassland throughout its range is adequately conserved (3) (4).

Regenerating natural grassland, and ensuring its protection and management, is a key priority for this species. Control and monitoring of livestock grazing and thatch production should be carried out, in conjunction with conservation awareness initiatives focusing on sustainable management of grassland habitats (3) (4).

Find out more about the white-throated bushchat:

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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
  2. Hodgson, B.H. (1846) Catalogue of the Specimens and Drawings of Mammalia and Birds of Nepal and Tibet. British Museum, London.
  3. BirdLife International - White-throated bushchat (May, 2011)
  4. BirdLife International. (2001) Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  5. Islam, M.Z. and Rahmani, A.R. (2002) Threatened birds of Asia. Buceros, 7(1&2): 1-103.
  6. Badarch, D., Zilinskas, R.A. and Balint, P.J. (2002) MongoliaToday: Science, Culture, Environment and Development. Routledge, Oxford.
  7. Braunlich, A. and Steudtner, J. (2008) Hodgson’s Bushchat Saxicola insignis in the Mongolian Altai. BirdingASIA, 9: 70-71.
  8. Baral, H.S. (2001) Community structure and habitat associations of lowland grassland birds. Dissertation. Universiteit van Amsterdam, Holland and University of Cardiff, UK.
  9. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (May, 2011)