Familiar chat

The familiar chat (Oenanthe familiaris), is a small passerine bird of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae. It is a common resident breeder in Africa south of the Sahara in rocky and mountainous habitat and around human habitation.

Familiar chat
Familiar Chat (Cercomela familiaris) (32594787952).jpg
In Eastern Cape province, South Africa
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Oenanthe
O. familiaris
Binomial name
Oenanthe familiaris
(Wilkes, 1817)
  • Cercomela familiaris (Wilkes, 1817)
  • Motacilla familiaris Wilkes, 1917


O. f. hellmayri in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa
O. f. galtoni with termite prey

The familiar chat was illustrated and described by the French naturalist François Levaillant in Volume 4 of his Histoire naturelle des oiseaux d'Afrique published in 1805. He named the bird, "Le Traquet Familier" but did not give the species a binomial name.[2] The binomial name Motacilla familiaris was introduced by the English publisher John Wilkes in 1817.[3][a] The species was subsequently placed in the genus Cercomela introduced by Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1856.[6] Molecular phylogenetic studies published in 2010 and 2012 found that the genus Cercomela was polyphyletic with five species, including the familiar chat, phylogenetically nested within the genus Oenanthe.[7][8] As part of a reorganization of the species to create monophyletic genera, the familiar chat was moved to the genus Oenanthe.[9]

There are 7 recognised subspecies:[9]

  • O. f. falkensteini (Cabanis, 1875) – Senegal to northwest Ethiopia, south Uganda and Tanzania
  • O. f. omoensis (Neumann, 1904) – southeast Sudan, southwest Ethiopia, northwest Kenya and northeast Uganda
  • O. f. angolensis (Lynes, 1926) – west Angola and north Namibia
  • O. f. galtoni (Strickland, 1853) – east Namibia, west Botswana and northern South Africa
  • O. f. hellmayri (Reichenow, 1902) – southeast Botswana to south Mozambique and northeast South Africa
  • O. f. actuosa (Clancey, 1966) – east South Africa and Lesotho
  • O. f. familiaris (Wilkes, 1817) – southern South Africa


The familiar chat is a dumpy short-tailed bird 14–15 cm (5.5–5.9 in) long. The adult's upperparts are a dull brown with warmer brown ear coverts behind the eye. The underparts vary from off-white to pale grey-brown, and the rump and outer tail feathers are rufous with a dark brown tip. The central tail feathers are dark brown. The short straight bill and the legs and feet are black. The sexes are alike, but the juvenile is similar to the adult but has buff spots above and a scaly pattern on the breast.[10]

The familiar chat has a soft "shek-shek" alarm call. The song is a warbling trill.



The familiar chat is monogamous. It breeds between December and March in most of west Africa, but between March and May in Nigeria and mainly between October and November in South Africa. It builds a thick cup-shaped nest of plant material lined with hair, wool and feathers. The nest is usually placed in a hole in the ground, but rock faces and buildings are also used. This species will use nest boxes or a disused sociable weaver nest. The clutch is 2-4 greenish-blue eggs decorated with reddish-brown speckling. The eggs hatch after 13–15 days. The nestlings are fed by both parents and fledge after 13–15 days. Usually only a single brood is raised each year.[11]

The familiar chat is typically seen sitting on a rock, or hopping on bare patches of soil. It has a habit of flicking its wings once or twice every time it moves. It is seen in small family groups of up to five birds, and is invariably tame and approachable. It eats insects, fruit, animal fat and household or farmyard scraps.

The Afrikaans name for this species "spekvreter" means "fat-eater", and comes from the fact that it developed the habit of feeding on the lard used to grease wagon axles by the voortrekkers.


  1. ^ In 1960 Ernst Mayr and Raymond Andrew Paynter, Jr. incorrectly listed a later authority (Stephens 1826) in the 10th volume of the Check-list of Birds of the World.[4][5]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Oenanthe familiaris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Levaillant, François (1805). Histoire naturelle des oiseaux d'Afrique (in French). Volume 4. Paris: Delachauchée. p. 97, Plate 183. |volume= has extra text (help)
  3. ^ Wilkes, John (1817). Encyclopaedia Londinensis. Volume 16. London: Self published. pp. 86–87. |volume= has extra text (help) The title page is dated 1819.
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 98. |volume= has extra text (help)
  5. ^ Rookmaaker, L.C. (1989). The Zoological Exploration of Southern Africa 1650-1790. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema. p. 324 No. 200. ISBN 978-90-6191-867-7.
  6. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 96. |volume= has extra text (help)
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2016). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  10. ^ Collar, N. "Familiar Chat (Oenanthe familiaris)". In del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 8 May 2017.
  11. ^ Clement, Peter (2016). Robins and Chats. Helm Identification Guides. London: Bloomsbury. pp. 624–626. ISBN 978-1-4081-5596-7.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit