Northern wheatear

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Northern Wheatear
Oenanthe oenanthe 01 II.jpg
Scientific classification
O. oenanthe
Binomial name
Oenanthe oenanthe
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Northern Wheatear or Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae. It is the most widespread member of the wheatear genus Oenanthe in Europe and Asia.


This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Motacilla oenanthe.[2] The generic name, Oenanthe, is also the name of a plant genus, the water dropworts, and is derived from the Greek ainos "wine" and anthos "flower", from the wine-like scent of the flowers.[3] In the case of the wheatear, it references the fact that these birds return to Greece in the spring just as the grapevines blossom.[4]

Its English name has nothing to do with wheat or ears, but is a bowdlerised form of white-arse, which refers to its prominent white rump.

The Northern Wheatear is a migratory insectivorous species breeding in open stony country in Europe and Asia with a foothold in eastern Canada and Greenland. It nests in rock crevices and rabbit burrows. All birds winter in Africa, which makes the large, bright Greenland race leucorhea one of the most impressive long-distance migrants.


The Northern Wheatear is larger than the European Robin at 14½–16 cm length. Both sexes have a white rump and tail, with a black inverted T-pattern at the end of the tail.

The summer male has grey upperparts, buff throat and black wings and face mask. In autumn it resembles the female apart from the black wings. The female is pale brown above and buff below with darker brown wings. The male has a whistling, crackly song. Its call is a typical chat chack noise.


The Northern Wheatear has an extensive range, estimated at 2.3 million square kilometres (0.87 million square miles), and a large population estimated at 2.9 million individuals in in Africa and the Americas combined. The species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e., declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations), and is therefore evaluated as Least Concern.[1]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2004). "Oenanthe oenanthe". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2006. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 12 May 2006.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  2. ^ (in Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii). p. 186. M. dorso cano, fronte alba, oculorum fascia nigra
  3. ^ "Dropwort, Hemlock Water". A Modern herbal. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  4. ^ "Northern Wheatear". eNature. Retrieved 2008-02-05.

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