Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe Scientific name definitions

Erica H. Dunn, David J. T. Hussell, Josef Kren, and Amelia C. Zoerb
Version: 2.1 — Published October 25, 2022



Occupies a broad range of open-country habitats with short vegetation; including short-grass meadows, grazed pasture, heathland, sand dunes, dry plains, steppe, and tundra (2). Areas with tall grass or invading woody vegetation are avoided, as is extensive agriculture. Moderate human disturbance is well tolerated. Climate ranges from hot desert to cold Arctic, and from low to moderate rainfall. Breeding occurs from sea level to mountain ranges, the latter favored especially in more southern parts of the range.

Habitat in Breeding Range

Breeding habitat is probably most diverse in western Europe, where landscapes and land use are particularly varied and fragmented. Favored habitats include small farm holdings within regions of forest or intensive agriculture, grazed land, and disturbed sites where human activities provide nest cavities. Within cities, vacant lots and industrial sites may be occupied (> 5 ha preferred) (77).

In arctic regions, breeding habitat is dry tundra juxtaposed with rubble piles, rocky outcrops, boulder fields or cliffs that provide nesting habitat (78), and birds readily live close to human habitations (79, 1, DJTH). O. o. leucorhoa in Iqaluit, Baffin Island nest in semi-natural areas interspersed with low-rise buildings (see Breeding: Nest Site; ).

In Iran, breeds chiefly above 2,500 m (80). Farther north, altitudinal range is limited by presence of permanent snow (81; see Breeding: Nest Site). In Greenland, drier interior sites are warmer and are preferred over coastal areas; nesting is among moraines, dry riverbeds, ravines, and low rolling heathland (82).

Habitat in Nonbreeding Range

Habitat in Migration

Migrants use all the same habitats as during breeding and more, including small areas where food is concentrated such as shorelines (where prey items can be especially abundant; 83), desert oases (4, 44), and village garbage dumps (84). Within Africa, often found in subdesert (44).

Habitat in Overwintering Range

Short-grass acacia steppe, savanna with few trees, open fields, barren rock and burnt areas, and open cultivated land; especially where perches are provided by rocks, anthills, or bushes (44). The altitudes at which such habitats are found varies across the overwintering range.

Abundance of Northern Wheatear in northern Nigeria was significantly greater in savannah than in agricultural or wooded sites. The most favored habitat consists of open areas with large scattered trees, especially the evergreens Balanites and Salvadora. These are in leaf during the dry season and are used for shade in the heat of the day; possibly also for foraging (65). Northern Wheatear was most abundant (1 bird/ha) at sites with very low tree density, falling to a quarter of that abundance where tree density was intermediate (85).

In East Africa, habitat includes hillier, less dry, and somewhat more wooded areas (44). In that region, Northern Wheatear has been observed among coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), on bare soil from coast to 2,900 m in Crater Highlands, and at 3,100 m on Mt. Kilimanjaro (86).

Recommended Citation

Dunn, E. H., D. J. T. Hussell, J. Kren, and A. C. Zoerb (2022). Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe), version 2.1. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.norwhe.02.1