Think of all the birds you know and you will realise that blue is a minority pigment in the bird world. It is more frequently encountered in the tropics but even here the effect is often created by refraction from glossy feathering. In Portugal we have the uncommon Roller in summer, a pigeon-sized bird, the smaller Kingfisher and the diminutive Blue Tit. In between is the Blackbird-sized Blue Rock Thrush. Only the male sports the midnight blue plumage; the female is dark brown with heavily barred underparts.

The Blue Rock Thrush is resident in coastal areas in southern Portugal. The males often perch prominently on rocky outcrops or buildings. In spring the loud, rather melancholy song is delivered even more slowly than the Blackbird’s, either from a perch or during a display flight. This usually consists of a shallow climb with wings and tail spread followed by a downward glide back to its ‘launch pad’. As the scientific name indicates, it is mainly solitary, rarely seen in more than family parties. Its food consists mainly of invertebrates, but small lizards are sometimes taken.

Further north in Portugal the species occurs only inland, mainly in the east, where it is more of a summer visitor. Here, it is particularly associated with large structures such as castles (ruined or intact) and churches. Birds from higher areas move to lowlands or the coast in winter. At Budens I have a noted a large increase in sightings in autumn and suspect some of these migrants, which may have bred in the Spanish sierras, will cross to Morocco. A few are known to make the shorter crossing from Gibraltar each autumn. Some birds venture as far as West Africa and a displaced male reached Santa Maria in the Azores whilst I was living there.

The rock thrush family is more diverse in Asia. The Blue Rock Thrush and the mountain-loving Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush are the only species occurring in Europe with Portugal at the westerly extreme of their range. Nevertheless, the Blue Rock Thrush has a wide world distribution with different races occupying mid-altitude habitats right across to the Far East. In Pakistan I was pleased to welcome an ‘altitudinal migrant’ to my Lahore garden in winter.

Alan Vittery