Northern Wheatear/Oenanthe oenanthe

Northern Wheatear/Oenanthe oenanthe - Photographer: Frank Schulkes
Northern Wheatear/Oenanthe oenanthe - Photographer: Frank Schulkes
Northern Wheatear/Oenanthe oenanthe - Photographer: Frank Schulkes
Northern Wheatear/Oenanthe oenanthe - Photographer: Frank Schulkes

L 14-16½ cm. Breeds in open, stony country with meadowland, often on moorland, coastal grassland, pasture and farmland with stone walls, downland, locally coastal shingle. In S Europe mostly high up in alpine country. Summer visitor to Britain & Ireland (mainly Mar-Oct), winters in Africa; Greenland and Canadian breeders (ssp. leucorhoa) also winter in Africa, are thus among the world’s real long-distance migrants (moreover cross wide oceans non-stop). Food insects. Nests in hole in rock crevice, cairn, stone wall, rabbit burrow etc.
IDENTIFICATION: Tail black and white in all plumages (black T-pattern at tip, white base). Upperparts grey or grey-brown. White or pale buff supercilium. - Adult male spring-summer: Ash-grey crown and upperparts, white supercilium, black eye-mask, black wings, and yellowish-buff colour on throat and breast (can fade to almost white in late summer). - o/autumn: Grey-brown above and buff below with darker wings and ear-coverts, lighter buff supercilium. Adult male in autumn identified by black wings (with narrow pale fringes), black lores and some black on ear-coverts. female and 1st-winter similar, have dark brown wings, lack black on head; paler birds confusable with Isabelline Wheatear (see latter). - Variation: In e.g. Greenland and Iceland (leucorhoa) larger, somewhat darker birds breed. In NW Africa (seebohmi) male has black bib and female grey-black or mottled grey bib.
VOICE: Call a straight whistle, like indrawn ‘hiit’, as well as a tongueclicking ‘chack’. Song, often delivered from elevated perch (top of a rock, wire or the like) but sometimes in short song-flight, an explosive, fast, hard chirpy and crackling verse with interwoven whistling ‘hiit’, varying in details and hard to transcribe; sometimes contains one or two imitations of other birds. Often sings at first light and just before, but also during day.

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