Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Muscicapidae | [latin] Oenanthe oenanthe | [UK] Northern Wheatear | [FR] Traquet motteux | [DE] Steinschmatzer | [ES] Collalba Gris | [NL] Tapuit


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Oenanthe oenanthe EU widespread, also n NA, nw Africa AF
Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa
Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica
Oenanthe oenanthe oenanthe
Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi

Physical charateristics

Specific characters most obvious in spring and summer, with fully blue-grey crown, nape, and back of male diagnostic, and always pale or clean throat and breast of female helpful. Sexes markedly dissimilar in breeding plumage, less so in winter.

Listen to the sound of Northern Wheatear

[audio: Wheatear.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 28 cm wingspan max.: 32 cm
size min.: 14 cm size max.: 16 cm
incubation min.: 13 days incubation max.: 15 days
fledging min.: 12 days fledging max.: 15 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia : widespread, also North NA, Northwest Africa


Breeds from high and low Arctic through boreal and temperate zones to steppe, Mediterranean, and subtropical arid zones, and from extreme continental to extreme oceanic climates, reaching Nearctic tundra from both European and Asian distribution areas.
Much of this expansion must have occurred since the last glaciation and far surpasses that of other Oenanthe with which however it shares constraints of requiring ready-made rock or burrow nest-site immediately neighbouring seasonally insect-rich bare patches or short swards for easy foraging.
Has exploited stony and shrub tundra, rocky slopes, scree, and alpine meadows above treeline in mountains.


In Britain and north-west Europe egg-laying starts from mid-April to June. In South and central Europe from early May to June. In Iceland from late May to late June and in Scandinavia from early to mid-May to early July. 1-2 broods. Nest is a hole in wall, among stones or rocks, in burrow, or in ruined building, will also use nest-box or holes in wide variety of man-made objects. Nest is a foundation (absent in nests in rock crevices) comprises large, untidy mass (up to 25 cm across) of dried stems of bracken, heather, and other plants, plus grass and occasional large feathers; cup more tightly woven of finer grass stems and leaves, with some moss and lichen.
Clutch: 4-7 (2-9) incubated in c. 13 days (10-16) by female only, though male occasionally helps. Young fledge on
average after 15 days (10-21), though most young already leave actual nest in burrow and move around in it at about 10 days.

Feeding habits

Diet based chiefly on insects, also spiders, molluscs, and other small invertebrates, supplemented by berries.
Normally locates prey visually, chiefly on ground or in low vegetation. Two main foraging techniques, which may be used in same area.
1) Running, in flat areas of short turf, runs short distance, stops to pick up item or to scan ground ahead, and then runs on.
2) Perching, in areas of scattered perches, uses these to scan ground nearby, drops down for item, and then returns to perch or moves to new one.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Northern Wheatear status Least Concern


Migratory, though North African race seebohmi probably only partially so. Winter quarters of entire world population, including birds breeding in Nearctic, in tropical Africa in broad belt south of Sahara from West African coast to Indian Ocean, and south in eastern Africa to northern Zambia; records of wintering elsewhere few and probably exceptional. Passage occurs on broad front across southern Europe, Mediterranean, and full length of North African coast; recorded in about equal abundance in both seasons, in contrast to many passerines.
Migration seasons notably protracted. Birds leave breeding grounds chiefly from August; some movement southward noted from mid-July, with passage continuing until c. 3rd week of October, and stragglers into November. Departure from winter quarters protracted, probably especially in west, with passage noted from late January in southern Morocco, and records from mid-February to May in Algeria. Passage across North African coast and Mediterranean chiefly March-April, tailing off to mid-May. In north-west Europe, a notably early spring migrant. Thus, often the first passerine to reach Britain, where sometimes recorded early March (exceptionally late February), but more usually from mid-March with peak in early April. First arrivals in Netherlands mid-March. In Norway, arrives in south from mid-March but not present in arctic regions until mid-May.
Iceland, Greenland, and east Canadian population winters from Senegal and Sierra Leone east to Mali. Autumn migration involves south-east crossing of North Atlantic, and frequency of records from ships south-east of Greenland is clear evidence that large numbers fly non-stop from Greenland to western Europe

Distribution map

Northern Wheatear distribution range map


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