Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear


Profile Northern Wheatear     Literature page Northern

[order] Passeriformes | [family] Muscicapidae | [latin] Oenanthe oenanthe | [UK] Northern Wheatear | [FR] Traquet motteux | [DE] Steinschmätzer | [ES] Collalba Gris | [IT] Culbianco olartico | [NL] Tapuit

Tapuit determination

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Specific characters most obvious in spring and summer, with fully blue-grey crown, nape, and back of male diagnostic, and always pale or clean throat and breast of female helpful. Sexes markedly dissimilar in breeding plumage, less so in winter.

Breeds from high and low Arctic through boreal and temperate zones to steppe, Mediterranean, and subtropical arid zones, and from extreme continental to extreme oceanic climates, reaching Nearctic tundra from both European and Asian distribution areas.
Much of this expansion must have occurred since the last glaciation and far surpasses that of other Oenanthe with which however it shares constraints of requiring ready-made rock or burrow nest-site immediately neighbouring seasonally insect-rich bare patches or short swards for easy foraging.
Has exploited stony and shrub tundra, rocky slopes, scree, and alpine meadows above treeline in mountains.

Oenanthe oenanthe is a widespread summer visitor to most of Europe, which accounts
for less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is
very large (>4,600,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although it
remained stable in various countries-particularly in eastern Europe-during 1990-
2000, the species suffered widespread declines, including in the key Turkish population,
and underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall. Consequently, this previously
Secure species is now provisionally evaluated as Declining.

Diet based chiefly on insects, also spiders, molluscs, and other small invertebrates, supplemented by berries.
Normally locates prey visually, chiefly on ground or in low vegetation. Two main foraging techniques, which may be used in same area.
1) Running, in flat areas of short turf, runs short distance, stops to pick up item or to scan ground ahead, and then runs on.
2) Perching, in areas of scattered perches, uses these to scan ground nearby, drops down for item, and then returns to perch or moves to new one.

This species has a large global range; the total size has not yet been quantified, but the Extent of Occurrence in Africa and the Americas combined is estimated to be 2,302,600 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 2,900,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but 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). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]

In Britain and north-west Europe egg-laying starts from mid-April to June. In South and central Europe from early May to June. In Iceland from late May to late June and in Scandinavia from early to mid-May to early July. 1-2 broods. Nest is a hole in wall, among stones or rocks, in burrow, or in ruined building, will also use nest-box or holes in wide variety of man-made objects. Nest is a foundation (absent in nests in rock crevices) comprises large, untidy mass (up to 25 cm across) of dried stems of bracken, heather, and other plants, plus grass and occasional large feathers; cup more tightly woven of finer grass stems and leaves, with some moss and lichen.
Clutch: 4-7 (2-9) incubated in c. 13 days (10-16) by female only, though male occasionally helps. Young fledge on
average after 15 days (10-21), though most young already leave actual nest in burrow and move around in it at about 10 days.

Migratory, though North African race seebohmi probably only partially so. Winter quarters of entire world population, including birds breeding in Nearctic, in tropical Africa¾in broad belt south of Sahara from West African coast to Indian Ocean, and south in eastern Africa to northern Zambia; records of wintering elsewhere few and probably exceptional. Passage occurs on broad front across southern Europe, Mediterranean, and full length of North African coast; recorded in about equal abundance in both seasons, in contrast to many passerines.
Migration seasons notably protracted. Birds leave breeding grounds chiefly from August; some movement southward noted from mid-July, with passage continuing until c. 3rd week of October, and stragglers into November. Departure from winter quarters protracted, probably especially in west, with passage noted from late January in southern Morocco, and records from mid-February to May in Algeria. Passage across North African coast and Mediterranean chiefly March-April, tailing off to mid-May. In north-west Europe, a notably early spring migrant. Thus, often the first passerine to reach Britain, where sometimes recorded early March (exceptionally late February), but more usually from mid-March with peak in early April. First arrivals in Netherlands mid-March. In Norway, arrives in south from mid-March but not present in arctic regions until mid-May.
Iceland, Greenland, and east Canadian population winters from Sénégal and Sierra Leone east to Mali. Autumn migration involves south-east crossing of North Atlantic, and frequency of records from ships south-east of Greenland is clear evidence that large numbers fly non-stop from Greenland to western Europe


  1. Measurements
  2. spanwidth min.: 28 cm
  3. spanwidth max.: 32 cm
  4. size min.: 14 cm
  5. size max.: 16 cm
  6. Breeding
  7. incubation min.: 13 days
  8. incubation max.: 15 days
  9. fledging min.: 12 days
  10. fledging max.: 19 days
  11. broods 2
  12. eggs min.: 3
  13. eggs max.: 7
  14. Conservation Status
  15. Tapuit status Least Concern


  1. Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi
  2. Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica
  3. Oenanthe oenanthe oenanthe
  4. Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa
  5. Oenanthe oenanthe
  6. EU widespread, also n NA, nw Africa
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