The European stonechat (''Saxicola rubicola'') is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a subspecies of the common stonechat. Long considered a member of the thrush family, Turdidae, genetic evidence has placed it and its relatives in the Old World flycatcher family, Muscicapidae.
==Taxonomy and systematics==
Two weakly defined subspecies are currently accepted:〔
*''Saxicola rubicola rubicola''. In the south and east of its range, from Denmark southwest to Spain and northern Morocco, east to Poland and Ukraine, and southeast to Turkey.
*''Saxicola rubicola hibernans''. Northwestern Europe in Atlantic coastal areas, in southwestern Norway, Great Britain, Ireland and northwestern France. Birds in coastal Portugal are also often listed as this subspecies〔 but this is disputed.〔Siddle, J. P. (2006). Which subspecies of Common Stonechat breeds in coastal Portugal? ''British Birds'' 99: 372-374.〕
The two subspecies differ in colour intensity following Gloger's rule, with ''S. r. rubicola'' paler and with larger white patches in the drier European continental and mediterranean climates, and ''S. r. hibernans'' darker brown with less white in the humid Atlantic oceanic climate. They intergrade broadly where their ranges meet, from southeastern England〔Kehoe, C. (2006). Racial identification and assessment in Britain: a report from the RIACT subcommittee. ''British Birds'' 99: 619-645 (pp. 635-636 ).〕 south through France and Spain, and many individuals are not identifiable to subspecies. Extreme examples of ''S. r. rubicola'' from the driest southern areas of its range such as the Algarve and Sicily are particularly pale and with a large white rump, and can be very similar to Siberian stonechats in appearance.〔〔Corso, A. (2001). Plumages of Common Stonechats in Sicily and comparison with vagrant Siberian Stonechats. ''British Birds'' 94: 315-318.〕 nDNA microsatellite fingerprinting reveals a very small degree of separation between the two subspecies.〔Wink, M.; Sauer-Gürth, H. & Gwinner, E. (2002): Evolutionary relationships of stonechats and related species inferred from mitochondrial-DNA sequences and genomic fingerprinting. ''British Birds'' 95: 349-355. (PDF fulltext )〕
In the past, the European stonechat was generally considered conspecific with the Siberian stonechat and African stonechat, lumped together as common stonechat ''S. torquatus''. A new review adding mtDNA cytochrome ''b'' sequence and nuclear DNA microsatellite fingerprinting evidence strongly supports their separation into distinct species.〔〔 Due to a misunderstanding of the rules of Zoological nomenclature, for a short time the name ''S. torquatus'' was erroneously used for the European stonechat rather than the African stonechat.〔
Together with the Siberian stonechat and Canary Islands stonechat it constitutes eastern and western representatives of an Eurasian lineage; the Asian and European populations separated during the Late Pliocene or Early Pleistocene, roughly 1.5-2.5 mya, and Fuerteventura was colonised by western European or northwest African birds somewhat later in the Early Pleistocene, about 1-2 mya.〔
The etymology of the English name derives from its call, sounding like two stones knocked together. The scientific name ''Saxicola'' means "rock-dweller", from Latin ''saxum'', a rock + ''incola'', dwelling in; and ''rubicola'', "bramble-dweller", from Latin ''Rubus'', brambles + ''incola''; the subspecies name ''hibernans'' refers to Ireland (Latin, ''Hibernia'').
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