T he 30 species of chat and 17 species of wheatear belong to the sub-family Cercomela which are part of the fan-Lily Muscica pidae that includes robins, shamas and redstarts These all belong to the order Passeriformes. Most species prefer cliffs and old quarries where there are plenty of large boulders interspersed with clumps of bush. They bop and glide from one boulder to another and, immediately after landing, the mocking chat's tail, for example, is raised giving the appearance that the bird has over balanced. The familiar chat in turn flits its wings a few times after landing. They tend to sit on the top of the highest boulders or shrubs from where they have a clear view of their territory. Stonechats are birds of open scrub and grassland and a number of other species live in dry scrubland in Australia and Africa. The calls of chats vary greatly and some are excellent mimics with a loud song.
They adapt well to captivity, but newly acquired adults can be a little delicate and stubborn when adapting to substitute foods. By initially holding wild birds in small cages with soft shade cloth fronts and also by mixing livefood into the substitute foods, they soon learn to take these and adapt to captivity. Hand raised birds however are easy to feed and will accept most softbill formulas. As they are territorial, only one pair of a species can be
housed in an aviary. Tt is possible however to mix species which are dissimilar in looks and habits. I have not noticed any serious aggression between chats and other occupants of an aviary, and the pairs tend to keep much to themselves. During courtship the male can be very aggressive towards the female who can sometimes also show limited aggression towards the male. Tdeally birds should be paired when young and out of the breeding season. They are extremely quick to snap up insects and this will sometimes result in larger, competing species such as starlings chasing off the chats at feeding times.
Chats prefer a large but lightly planted aviary, which includes rocky outcrops into which they will retreat if threatened. The landscape should be planned according with their natural habitat but for most species low shrubs interspersed with open sunny areas, rocks, and tree stumps will provide suitable habitat. From these vantage points they will "hawk" insects in the air and also drop to the ground where they pick up crawling insects. The males will spend much of their time displaying and calling from these favorite vantage points. Males also tend to sometimes chase
females but this seldom results in serious fighting.
They are usually the first birds to give the alarm call if, for example, a raptor flies over, and the other birds in the aviary soon learn to take cover when the chats alarm call is heard. This generally high pitched call can be a little irritating, as the other birds tend to panic when the call is heard. Chats are fond of bathing and a shallow pool of water should be available for this. They are willing nesters, but will not nest if the inhabitants of the aviary are incompatible or insufficient livefood is supplied/available. Chats are relatively hardy birds, which are
able to withstand overnight temperatures down to freezing. They do however require daytime temperatures in excess of 8°C
In severe climates, which do not meet the requirements described, they should be housed indoors with some additional warmth.
Chats are naturally almost entirely insectivorous but in captivity they will feed on soaked cat kibble, fresh bonemeal, commercial softbill food, minced ox heart, a variety of insects, and a little fruit.
The following diet can be prepared in bulk and frozen in the proportions as required per day:
• 4 cups of commercial softbill mix
• 2 tablespoons glucose
• 2 teaspoons calcium supplement (powder)
• 1 teaspoon multivitamins
• 1/2-teaspoon minerals and trace elements formulated for avian species
• 3 cups water
• 1 teaspoon cod liver oil ADD: -
• One ox heart - cut off all fat and then mince.
• 4 hard-boiled eggs I grated with the shell.
Livefood is always their favorite and to assist in taming the birds, livefood is best fed by hand. In time
they will come to the hand to receive this. Large insects are usually beaten into pieces on a rock or a stump. Australian Orange Chats fade after years in captivity and in order to maintain their color they can be fed color food as is used for red factor canaries.