Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

It is a smallish bird, sporting a black-and-white tail, which is conspicuous in flight. Adult males are mostly pale bluish-gray, with a dark mask, buffy throat, black wings, and gray back in the breeding plumage. Females appear to be paler brownish sans the dark mask. Outside the breeding period, adults tend to be mostly buff but miss the black wings. It is mainly a Eurasian species, which spend winter in Africa.

Read further to know more about the Northern Wheatear.

What is a Northern Wheatear?

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) is a passerine bird species belonging to the family Old Wolrd family, Muscicapidae, of small flycatchers. It is a migratory insectivorous bird, breeding in open stony country locations and nesting crevices and burrows. This bird breeds in the north and central Europe, North Asia, Siberia, and even extending to North America, Canada, and Greenland.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Muscicapidae

Genus: Oenanthe

Species: O. oenanthe

Northern Wheatear Physical Description

Northern Wheatear is a small passerine bird, growing 5.7 to 6.3 inches or 14.5 to 16 centimeters, weighing around 18 to 33 grams, with a wingspan of 11.4 centimeters. Summer plumage of male shows pale gray upperparts, with a black mask, buffy throat, and gray back. Meanwhile, the breeding female has dull brownish upperparts and buff underparts, with darker brown wings. Outside the breeding period, adults tend to be mostly buff but miss the black wings.

The black terminal band and central rectrices in the tail produce an inverted T pattern during the flight. Eyes are brown while bill, legs, and feet and all black. Juveniles and immature birds have the same female plumage, but sports buffy speckles, while underparts are scaled brown.

Where can they be spotted?

Northern Wheatears breed in Europe, Asia, North America, Canada, and Greenland, and spends the winter in Africa. Despite its small size, it is a long-distance migrant, breeding in rocky fields, upland grassland with sparse grasses or low vegetation, mountainsides, hillsides, and cliff-tops. In its wintering range in Africa, it frequents savannas, cultivated areas, rocky hills, steppes, and plantations.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatears’ diet revolves primarily on insects, such as ants, termites, beetles, and larvae. Other food items it consumes include snails, spiders, earthworms, snails, and berries. They forage the ground, often running or hopping, then stooping down to pick its prey. These birds may also pursue insects while on the wings through a fluttering flight. Northern Wheatears may defend a small foraging territory against birds from the same species.

During the breeding period, the male will perform flight displays and sing to declare its territorial range. One courtship antic is characterized by the female crouching on the ground and spearing her wings and tail, while the male hops on her swiftly. Other courtship display involved the pair, doing courtship dances on shallow scrapes on the ground, while the male sings, and glides in the air.

Once the bond has been established, the female Northern Wheatear selects the nesting site. They are monogamous during their first season but can be polygynous moving forward. The breeding season varies greatly depending on the range.

The nest is built on the ground, in rock crevices, burrows, or holes. The female constructs the nest, characterized by an open cup made of stems, leaves, moss, hair, and feathers. The foundation built of dry plant matter. She will lay 4-8 eggs, which both sexes will incubate for about 12-14 days. Broods will fledge about 15 to 17 days after hatching and will rely on parents for food for roughly two weeks.

Northern Wheatears are common and have an extensive range, but their number is gradually decreasing across many European countries. Significant threats include habitat destruction due to human disturbance and development. Nevertheless, the population seems to be stable, and the species is currently listed as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.



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