[order] PICIFORMES | [family] Picidae | [latin] Jynx torquilla | [UK] Eurasian Wryneck | [FR] Torcol fourmilier | [DE] Wendehals | [ES] Torcecuello de Africa Tropical | [NL] Draaihals
|Breeding Range 2
|Non Breeding Range
|e Siberia and ne and c China
|s and se Asia
|n Pakistan and nw Himalayas
|to ne Asia and s Asia
|w Europe to Bulgaria and the Caucasus area
They are small sparrow-sized birds, appearing greyish overall, with brown and buff mottling. They have a contrasting dark band running down from the back of the head onto the back. Their bills are shorter and less dagger like than in the true woodpeckers, but their chief prey is ants and other insects, which they find in decaying wood or almost bare soil. They re-use woodpecker holes for nesting, rather than making their own holes. The eggs are white, as with many hole nesters. These birds get their English name from their ability to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. When disturbed at the nest, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. This odd behaviour led to their use in witchcraft, hence to put a “jinx” on someone
Eurasia : widespread
Breeds in west Palearctic from boreal subarctic through temperate to Mediterranean zones, strongly favouring continental rather than oceanic climates but avoids true steppe, desert, mountains, and wetlands. A lowland bird, but in Switzerland a few breed in favourable valleys above 1000 m. Does not favour dense or tall forest, preferring fringes, open woodlands, clearings, or, especially, parks, orchards, cemeteries, large gardens (even in towns), avenues, riverside trees, and heaths with colonizing pines. Prefers deciduous to coniferous trees, and is less interested in trunks than in branches, often fairly close to ground. Importance of ants in diet leads to frequent occurrence on warm dry ground, either bare or with short herbage; presence of such foraging areas as well as of suitable nest-holes (which it is unable to excavate) is critical for choice of breeding habitat. On migration, occurs in variety of strange habitats with little or no tree cover, even in deserts and low scrub, while wintering birds even found in broad-leaved or thorn scrub, semi-desert, and cultivation.
Wrynecks usually nest in a natural hole in a tree, but they will also make use of holes in walls and nest boxes. They have been known to evict other species of birds already in residence and their noisy activities at the nest site sometimes give away their presence. They lay up to ten pale grey-green – almost white – eggs during May, which are usually incubated by the female bird for 12 to 14 days. The young wrynecks are fed on ants and ant larvae for about three weeks, both parent birds attending to the task. If food supplies are good, the birds may attempt a second brood during July and August.
Principally, and sometimes exclusively, ants, but also other insects. Ants usually taken from nests; may be dug out with bill, or nest broken up. Prey in holes adhere to long, glutinous tongue and are drawn out. Usually pecks at immediately available adults and larvae and uses tongue for more inaccessible prey.
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.
Mainly migratory. European population winters in very small numbers or irregularly in Mediterranean basin and Middle East; otherwise in Africa south of Sahara. Found there in acacia steppe across northern tropics from Senegambia and Sierra Leone east to Ethiopia, and south to c. 3 degrees N in Cameroun and Zaire. Migrates on broad front across Europe and North Africa. Main autumn passage period is mid-August to early October (stragglers into November or even later); from early September onwards south of Sahara. Spring passage begins early March, though minority still in Afrotropics in early May. Vanguard commonly reaches west and central Europe in second half of March (occasionally earlier), but major reoccupation of European breeding range early April to mid-May, averaging later to north and east.