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Not to be confused with an ear of wheat.
Oenanthe oenanthe 01 II.jpg
Northern wheatear (male)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Oenanthe
Vieillot, 1816

See text.



The wheatears /ˈhwtɪər/ are passerine birds of the genus Oenanthe. They were formerly considered to be members of the thrush family, Turdidae, but are now more commonly placed in the flycatcher family, Muscicapidae. This is an Old World group, but the northern wheatear has established a foothold in eastern Canada and Greenland and in western Canada and Alaska.


The name "wheatear" is not derived from "wheat" or any sense of "ear", but is a 16th-century linguistic corruption of "white" and "arse", referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.[1]

Oenanthe is also the name of a plant genus, the water dropworts, and is derived from the Greek oenos (οίνος) "wine" and anthos (ανθός) "flower". In the case of the plant genus, it refers to the wine-like scent of the flowers.[2] In the case of the wheatear, it refers to the northern wheatear's return to Greece in the spring just as the grapevines blossom.[3]


This genus formerly included fewer species. Molecular phylogenetic studies of birds in the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae, found that the genus Cercomela was polyphyletic with five species, including the type species C. melanura, phylogenetically nested within the genus Oenanthe.[4][5] This implied that Cercomela and Oenanthe were synonyms. The type species for Oenanthe, (O. leucopyga, Vieillot, 1816) is earlier than the type for Cercomela (C. melanura, Bonaparte, 1856) and has taxonomic priority making Cercomela a junior synonym.[4][6]


Most species have characteristic black and white or red and white markings on their rumps or their long tails. Most species are strongly sexually dimorphic; only the male has the striking plumage patterns characteristic of the genus, though the females share the white or red rump patches.

Species list[edit]

The genus contains 23 species:[7]


Wheatears are terrestrial insectivorous birds of open, often dry, country. They often nest in rock crevices or disused burrows. Northern species are long-distance migrants, wintering in Africa.

Fossil record[edit]

  • Oenanthe kormosi (Late Miocenee of Polgardi, Hungary) [8]
  • Oenanthe pongraczi (Plioceme of Csarnota, Hungary) [8]


  1. ^ "Wheatear". Merriam Webster Online. Retrieved 13 May 2010. 
  2. ^ "Dropwort, Hemlock Water". A Modern herbal. Botanical.com. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  3. ^ "Northern Wheatear". eNature. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  4. ^ a b Outlaw, R.K.; Voelker, G.; Bowie, R.C.K. (2010). "Shall we chat? Evolutionary relationships in the genus Cercomela (Muscicapidae) and its relation to Oenanthe reveals extensive polyphyly among chats distributed in Africa, India and the Palearctic". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 55 (1): 284–292. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2009.09.023. 
  5. ^ Aliabadian, M.; Kaboli, M.; Förschler, M.I.; Nijman, V.; Chamani, A.; Tillier, A.; Prodon, R.; Pasquet, E.; Ericson, P.G.P.; Zuccon, D. (2012). "Convergent evolution of morphological and ecological traits in the open-habitat chat complex (Aves, Muscicapidae: Saxicolinae)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 65 (1): 35–45. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2012.05.011. 
  6. ^ Sangster, George; Collinson, J. Martin; Crochet, Pierre-André; Knox, Alan G.; Parkin, David T.; Votier, Stephen C. (2013). "Taxonomic recommendations for Western Palearctic birds: ninth report". Ibis. 155: 898–907 [903]. doi:10.1111/ibi.12091. 
  7. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016. 
  8. ^ a b Kessler, E. 2013. Neogene songbirds (Aves, Passeriformes) from Hungary. – Hantkeniana, Budapest, 2013, 8: 37-149.