Bird Families

Black-headed African Coin / Saxicola torquatus


Black-headed coin (Saxicola torquata) - a bird of small size, compact build, with thin legs and beak. Male with black head, back, wings, tail, “cheeks” and throat. The abdomen, loin, sides of the neck are white. The chest is orange, and there is a noticeable white stripe on the wing. The female's coloration is simpler and paler, devoid of black tone. In winter plumage, due to the light ends of the feathers, it ceases to be so contrasting. The body length of the black-headed chisel reaches 9-12 cm and weighs from 10 to 13 g. When the bird is worried, it begins to twitch its tail restlessly.


Black-headed coin - an inhabitant of open, sunny landscapes: wastelands, heaths, sandy and rocky areas along the slopes of mountains, meadows with rare bushes, the edges of swamps, cultivated fields. This species is migratory in the northern part of the range and resident in the southern part. He has about 24 subspecies in Eurasia and Africa. The European range generally does not extend north of 52 ° north latitude. Winters in the south of its range, up to North Africa. In Italy, a population of 200-300 thousand pairs nests, concentrated mostly below 1000 meters above sea level.


The black-headed coin nests on the ground. Beginning in March, the female lays 4–6 eggs and incubates them for 13–14 days. Chicks leave the nest at 12–16 days. These birds may have 2-3 clutches per year.

The nest of the black-headed chisel is located on the ground and is made mainly of grass, stems, moss and roots lined with thinner stems or wool. It is usually well disguised. In clutch there are from 3 to 8 bright, with a shiny shell, greenish-blue, sometimes with very small brown spots of eggs. During the nesting period from March to August, the birds manage to raise 2 broods.


The main food of the black-headed mint is terrestrial arthropods: insects, spiders and worms, which it catches more often on the ground. Chekan loves to look around and watch for prey, sitting on some dais.

Systematics and taxonomy

The closest relative of this species is obviously not the Eurasian population, but the Reunion coin (S. tectes), but nonetheless Saxicola "With white collar" form an excellent group in the genus. S. torquatus and S. tectes form the African origin of the Sahara region, which differed from the Eurasian in the Late Pliocene about 2.5 million years ago. Reunion was colonized shortly thereafter, indicating a rapid expansion along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. With the Sahara drying up in the ensuing Quaternary freeze, the African and Eurasian populations became isolated forever.

A recent division as a species has been proposed, following the cytochrome mtDNA b sequence and nDNA analysis of microsatellite fingerprinting of Saxicola subspecies specimens torquatus axillaris, but not S. t. torquatus, and hence this species was briefly known as S. axillaris.


The subspecies differ slightly in size, and more in the degree of orange-red on the upper breast of males, and whether the lower breast is white from a distinct border from the upper breast or pale orange with an indistinct border from the darker upper breast. The degree of orange-red also changes throughout the year, often extending to the belly outside the breeding season.

  • Saxicola torquatus torquatus - E South Africa
  • Saxicola (torquatus) sibilla, Madagascar coin - Madagascar
  • Saxicola (torquatus) albofasciatus, Ethiopian coinage - Ethiopian Highlands

Black Chest: Upper, not orange-red.

  • Saxicola torquatus salax - N Angola, W Zaire, Congo, Gabon
  • Saxicola torquatus axillaris - Kenya, Uganda, NW Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, E Zaire
  • Saxicola torquatus pallidigula - High heights on Mount Cameroon, Cameroon

: The largest subspecies. Flat wing length c. 75-78 mm (3 in).

  • Saxicola torquatus jebelmarrae - Darfur (Sudan)
  • Saxicola torquatus adamauae - Cameroon

: Mid-sized, flat wing length c.70 mm (c.2.7 in).

  • Saxicola torquatus promiscuus - Western Mozambique, eastern Zambia, central Tanzania

: Very limited orange-red on the upper chest only.

  • Saxicola torquatus voeltzkowi - Grande Comore
  • Saxicola torquatus nebularum - Tropical West Africa from Sierra Leone to Ivory Coast

: Extensive orange-red on chest and also rims.

  • Saxicola torquatus moptanus - Scattered in the Sahel W from Senegal N to Niger

: The smallest subspecies.

  • Saxicola torquatus felix - SW Saudi Arabia and Yemen W
  • Saxicola torquatus oreobates - High altitudes in Drakensberg and other mountains of Lesotho and immediately adjacent South Africa
  • Flat roller Saxicola torquatus - From southern Africa, from the northernmost north of South Africa to Zaire and southwestern Tanzania
  • Saxicola torquatus clanceyi - W South Africa
  • Saxicola torquatus altivagus - E Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi

: Previously included within promiscua and very similar to it.