Wheatear

Oenanthe oenanthe

14.5-15.5cm

Appearance

The Wheatear has a relatively short tail and the white rump is distinctive, as is the white section on top of the tail; there's a black 'T' shape on the tail's tip which is particularly visible in flight. The sexes are different. The male is bluish grey on his back and crown, he has a black section that goes behind the eye and onto the cheek, there's a white supercilium, his wings are black, his legs and bill are dark, and the underparts are pale with an orange tinge. Females are light brownish on top and the colour darkens on her wings. She has a more subtle supercilium than the male, her throat, breast and face are pale brown with an orange tinge, and she is otherwise buffish-white underneath. Juveniles are buffish, with mottling or spots on the back and breast.

Habitat

Prefers to breed in places with abundant rocks, in open countryside, or closer to the coast. During migration it often makes stops, particular in coastal areas.

Character

The Wheatear is often seen holding itself erect, looking rather stiff. The white rump is clear in flight, as is the 'T' pattern on the end of the tail in black. Most feeding occurs on the ground, where it flits around a lot and bobs, occasionally hovering in the air to grab an insect; has short bursts of running as well. Mostly seen alone or in pairs, but migration groups regularly form.

Food

Diet includes beetles, springtails, moths and their caterpillars, flies, small snails, worms, blackberries, elderberries and rowan berries.

Breeding

Creates a hole-nest between April and July. Female incubates 5 or 6 eggs for about 14 days. Both parents provide food for the hatchlings, which may depart nest after 10 days, and can usually fly after about 15 days. Independence takes between 28 and 32 days. Pairs often have two, and occasionally three, broods.

Population

The Wheatear is a summer visitor to the region, arriving between March and May. Majority of birds depart around August, usually travelling by night, and many visit the coast of North Africa before heading towards the areas where they'll spend winter. Approximately 240 000 pairs are in the UK during summer and more than 2000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The Wheatear is one of the region's longest-staying visitors, with early arrivals and late departures in coastal areas, which makes observation more likely. They aren't too challenging to see in the right habitats, and are most thickly distributed in the north and the west of the region.

Voice

The Wheatear's alarm call is compared with two pebbles clashing together: 'chak, chak'. Has a rapid trilling song that it may sing while flying or perching.
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