© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Mervi Wahlroos, Kari Pihlaviita, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M. & W. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.


Oenanthe oenanthe

  • Name also: Northern Wheatear
  • Family: Flycatchers – Muscicapidae
  • Appearance: A busy, small bird with a conspicuous white rump and tail, with black markings making a distinctive broad upside-down T-shape on the tip of its tail. Wings dark coloured beneath, and on top evenly dark brown (female) or black (male).
  • Size: Length 14–16 cm, weight 19–29 g.
  • Nest: Among rocks, in a stone wall, in a hole in a building or in woodpiles. Loosely made of straw, leaves and moss, lined with hair, straw and feathers.
  • Breeding: 3–8 eggs laid in May, incubated mainly by female for 11–16 days. Fledglings remain in nest for 14–16 days, and learn to fly fairly soon after leaving the nest.
  • Distribution: Breeds in open habitats throughout Finland, but numbers strongest in the north. Finnish breeding population estimated at 50,000–100,000 pairs. Numbers have declined recently.
  • Migration: Nocturnal. Flies south August–September, returning April–May. Winters in tropical Africa.
  • Diet: Invertebrates.
  • Calls: A sharp whistling “hyee”, and a clacking call “chak”, often used in succession. Song rapid, enthusiastic and chirpy, with some strained and crackling phrases.
  • Endangerment: Least concern, protected.

Wheatears belong to the large group of passerines (perching birds) though they mainly live on the ground. The broad upside-down T-shaped black marking on their otherwise white tails is a good distinguishing feature on birds in all plumages. Also their wings are noticeably dark beneath, and on top evenly dark brown (female) or black (male). In summer, males have an ash grey cap and back, a pale orange chest and throat, a white belly and a black eye stripe that becomes broader further back on their cheeks.

Females and juveniles are duller in colouring than males, with brownish backs, wing coverts and cheeks. Wheatears have black legs and beaks, and dark brown irises. The Wheatears that breed in Northern Canada and Greenland and spend the winter on the other side of the Atlantic in Africa are among the birds with the longest annual migrations.

Other species from the same family

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