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Northern Wheatear - BirdForum Opus

Male Greenland Wheatear O. o. leucorhoa
Photo © by Paul Hackett
Seaforth Nature Reserve, Liverpool, UK, 18 April 2004
Oenanthe oenanthe


14·5–15·5 cm (5¾-6 in) length
White rump, basal tail patches with black centre and terminal band.
Breeding Male

  • Grey upperparts
  • Buff throat
  • Black wings and face mask
  • White stripe above the eye
Male Seebohm's Wheatear O. o. seebohmi
Photo © by Ornitho26
Ifrane, Morocco, 22 May 2008


  • Sandy-brown above and buff below
  • Eye patch and wings are brown

Fall & Winter Male

  • Similar to female but browner.


  • Similar to female but spotted white on crown, back and chest.


Female Seebohm's Wheatear O. o. seebohmi
Photo © by Ornitho26
Ifrane, Morocco, 22 May 2008

Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Greenland.
Europe: Breeds in most of Europe including for example Iceland and the Faroe Islands, in the south only at higher elevation. These populations winter in Africa.
North America and Greenland: Populations breeding in Greenland and eastern Canada migrates to Africa (via western Europe). Populations breeding in Alaska and northwestern Canada migrate by a western route through Asia and the Middle East to eastern Africa south of the Sahara. Both of these populations give rise to vagrants seen further south in the Americas and The Caribbean.
Asia: Breeds across the entire northern half of the continent, migrating to sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa: As long as the taxon O. o. seebohmi is considered part of Northern Wheatear, there are breeding birds in the Atlas Mountains of northwestern Africa. Africa is important as the winter range for almost all populations, in a broad belt from Senegal east to Sudan and south in eastern Africa to Zambia. A few also winter in southwest Asia.


Wheaters were originally classified in the thrush family Turdidae, but is now considered to be Old World flycatchers, family Muscicapidae. This thread discusses aspects of Northern Wheatear taxonomy.


Four subspecies currently accepted:[1]

  • O. o. leucorhoa (Greenland Wheatear)
North-eastern Canada to Greenland and Iceland; migrates through western Europe to western Africa.[3][5][7] Slightly larger and more orange-toned below.
Male in flight
Photo © by targetman
Lincolnshire, UK, 9 May 2012
  • O. o. oenanthe (Eurasian Wheatear)
British Isles to Mediterranean, Siberia and Alaska; migrates to central and eastern Africa. The migration from Alaska to East Africa is the longest known migration of any songbird.
  • O. o. libanotica
Southern Spain and Balearic Is. to Iran, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Marginally paler and longer-billed.
  • O. o. seebohmi (Seebohm's or Black-throated Wheatear)
Morocco to north-eastern Algeria; migrates to Mauritania. Black throat on males; females greyer-toned than O. o. oenanthe.
Split as a separate species Oenanthe seebohmi by some authors[2].


Rocky tundra, grazed slopes with short turf and rocky outcrops, hill pastures, sand dunes.



Diet consists mosly of insects such as beetles and ants, also some berries at times.

Photo © by Nigel Kiteley
Draycote Water, Warwickshire, England, 18 August 2008


Nest is on ground on dry tundra, usually in hole in a wall, under stones, or in old rabbit burrow. and is a cup of grass, twigs, weeds, lined with finer material such as moss, lichens, rootlets. The clutch is usually 5-6 pale blue eggs; unmarked, or with fine reddish brown dots, which are incubated by the female for 13-14 days.


Song usually in up to 3 sections. First section has 1 or 2 notes, second has 2 or 3 but up to 10 rapidly repeated notes; third section tends to be quieter, is often a repetition of first section. E. g. in the song phrase zee zee widdle ee, the first and third sections are high-pitched zee or ee notes. Call is a straight whistle. Northern Wheatear voice clip

In Culture

The name "Wheatear" derives from Old English and means "white rear" describing its distinctive white rump.

Adult female
Photo © by peterow
Lancashire, UK, 15 May 2018


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Svensson, L., Mullarney, K., & Zetterström, D. (2009). Collins Bird Guide, 2nd edition. Collins ISBN 978 0 00 726814 6
  3. Bairlein, F.; Norris, D.R.; Nagel, R.; Bulte, M.; Voigt, C.C.; Fox, J.W.; Hussell, D.J.T.; Schmaljohann, H. (2012). Cross-hemisphere migration of a 25 g songbird. Biology Letters. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.1223
  4. Collar, N. (2018). Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/58539 on 13 September 2018).
  5. Cramp, S. 1988. The birds of the Western Palearctic, Vol. 5: tyrant flycatchers to thrushes. Oxford, U.K: Oxford Univ. Press.
  6. Kren, J. and A. C. Zoerb (1997). Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.316
  7. Thorup, K., Troels Eske Ortvad, & Rabøl, J. (2006). Do Nearctic Northern Wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa) Migrate Nonstop to Africa? The Condor, 108(2), 446-451. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4151031
  8. Birdwatchers Pocket Guide ISBN 1-85732-804-3
  9. BirdForum member personal observation

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