AppearanceThe familiar chat is a dumpy short-tailed bird 14–15 cm long. The adult’s upperparts are dark brown, and the face sides behind the eye are orange. The underparts vary from off-white to pale grey-brown, and the rump and outer tail feathers are orange. The central tail feathers are dark brown. The short straight bill and the legs and feet are black. The sexes are similar, but the juvenile is dark brown above and buff below, heavily marked with buff on the upperparts, and scaly on the breast.
The familiar chat has a soft "shek-shek" alarm call. The song is a warbling trill.
BehaviorThe familiar chat builds a cup-shaped nest of hair, wool, feathers or soft plant material on a base of coarse vegetation. It is constructed in a hole in the ground, a rock face or building. It will use nest boxes or a disused sociable weaver nest. It normally nests from July to April, but will breed at any time when conditions are right, especially in the more arid areas.
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.
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