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Oenanthe oenanthe 01 II.jpg
Male northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Subfamily: Saxicolinae
Genus: Oenanthe
Vieillot, 1816
Type species
Turdus leucurus
Gmelin, 1789

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 folk etymology of "white" and "arse", referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.[1]

The genus name Oenanthe is derived from the Greek oenos (οἶνος) "wine" and anthos (ἄνθος) "flower". It refers to the northern wheatear's return to Greece in the spring just as the grapevines blossom.[2]


The genus Oenanthe was introduced by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1816 with Oenanthe leucura, the black wheatear, as the type species.[3][4] The genus formerly included fewer species but 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.[5][6] This implied that Cercomela and Oenanthe were synonyms. The genus Oenanthe (Vieillot, 1816) has taxonomic priority over Cercomela (Bonaparte, 1856) making Cercomela a junior synonym.[5][7] Nonetheless, Cercomela is considered a valid genus on the Clements Checklist of Birds of the World, managed by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.[8]


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 32 species:[9]


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) [11]
  • Oenanthe pongraczi (Plioceme of Csarnota, Hungary) [11]


  1. ^ "Wheatear". Merriam Webster Online. Retrieved 13 May 2010.
  2. ^ "Northern Wheatear". eNature. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
  3. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 10. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 121. |volume= has extra text (help)
  4. ^ Vieillot, Louis Jean Pierre (1883) [1816]. Saunders, Howard (ed.). Vieillot's Analyse d'une nouvelle ornithologie élémentaire (in French). London. p. 43.
  5. ^ 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. PMID 19772925.
  6. ^ 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. PMID 22634240.
  7. ^ 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 (4): 898–907 [903]. doi:10.1111/ibi.12091.
  8. ^ Clements Checklist of Birds of the World http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/
  9. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David (eds.). "Chats, Old World flycatchers". World Bird List Version 6.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  10. ^ a b c "Species Updates – IOC World Bird List". Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b Kessler, E. 2013. Neogene songbirds (Aves, Passeriformes) from Hungary. – Hantkeniana, Budapest, 2013, 8: 37–149.