NORTHERN WHEATEAR


Field Marks
Size
Voice
Range
Migration
Habitat
Feeding
Nesting
Conservation
Northern Wheatear - Field Marks

This species breeds in Alaska and parts of northern Canada, areas many North American birders may never get to. Without traveling north the best chance of seeing this bird is in the northeastern United States from late-September through mid-October. Fall sightings of this species have been increasing in the 1990s, possibly owing to a population increase in northeastern Canada.

Northern Wheatear
Oenanthe oenanthe

On fall weekends in the Northeast, birders sometimes hope (but never expect) to find a Wheatear. This small thrush enters the North American Arctic from both directions, via both Greenland and Alaska, but almost all go back to the Old World in winter; only the occasional straggler appears south of Canada. Wheatears can be found in summer on rocky tundra, where they are inconspicuous until they fly, flashing their tail pattern.

Field Marks
A dapper sparrow-sized ground bird of Arctic barrens, flitting from rock to rock, fanning its tail and bobbing. Note the white rump and sides of the tail. The black on the tail forms a broad inverted T. Breeding male has a blue-gray back, black wings, and a black ear patch. Female and autumn male are buffier, with a brown back.

Size
6" (15 cm)

Voice
Note, a hard chak-chak or chack-weet, weet-chack.

Range
Eurasia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland. Migrates to Africa, India.

Northern Wheatear - Range Map

Migration
Birds from eastern Canada migrate east via Greenland and Europe, to winter in Africa. Birds from Alaska and northwestern Canada cross Bering Strait and make long westward flight across Asia, also going to wintering grounds mostly in Africa.

Habitat
In summer, rocky tundra, barren slopes. Breeds on dry northern tundra with many exposed rocks and boulders, especially where these are near mats of dwarf shrubs a few inches high. Migrants may be seen on any kind of open ground, including vacant lots, barren fields, coastal meadows. In Eurasia, very widespread in open country.

Feeding
Diet: Mostly insects, some berries. Diet in North America not well known. In Eurasia feeds mostly on insects, especially beetles, also ants, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and many others. Also eats spiders, centipedes, snails. Often feeds on berries in summer and fall.

Behavior: Forages mostly on the ground, running short distances and then stopping to pick up items. May run and flutter in pursuit of active insects. Also often watches from a low perch, then flies down to take item on ground. Sometimes flies out to catch insects in midair.

Nesting
Male defends territory by singing, often in flight. Song often includes imitations of other birds. In one courtship display, female crouches on ground while male leaps back and forth over her, very rapidly, with wings and tail spread. Also other postures and displays, many showing off tail pattern.

Nest: Site is on ground on dry tundra, usually in hole under rock, in crevice among stones, or in old rodent burrow. Nest, probably built by female, placed within this shelter; variable cup of grass, twigs, weeds, lined with finer material such as moss, lichens, rootlets.

Eggs: 5-6, sometimes 3-8. Pale blue, unmarked or with fine reddish brown dots. Incubation is mostly or entirely by female, about 13-14 days.

Young: Both parents bring food for nestlings, but female may do more. Young leave nest about 15 days after hatching. Probably 1 brood per year.

Conservation
North American population probably stable; may be increasing as a breeder in northeastern Canada.

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