Quick facts

Common names: wheatear, northern wheatear

Scientific name: Oenanthe oenanthe

Family: Muscicapidae (old world flycatchers)

Habitat: upland areas, moorland, pasture, heathland

Diet: insects, larvae, berries

Predators: sparrowhawks, other birds of prey

Origin: native

What do wheatears look like?

Male wheatears have black cheeks, a white eye stripe and a grey crown. Females have brownish-orange cheeks and a grey-brown eye stripe and crown. Both sexes have a striking white rump with a black ‘T’ shape on their tail, and an orange-flushed breast.

The species is smaller than a blackbird but larger than a robin.

Credit: Neil Bowman / Alamy Stock Photo

What do wheatears eat?

The wheatear’s diet mostly consists of insects, larvae and other invertebrates, although it will also eat berries.

Did you know?

The wheatear’s name comes from the Old English for ‘white’ (wheat) and ‘arse’ (ear), after the bird’s white rump.

How do wheatears breed?

These birds typically build nests in sheltered cavities between rocks, rabbit burrows or man-made holes in walls. A clutch of four to seven eggs are usually laid in May, hatching after around 13 days. Chicks are ready to fledge approximately two weeks after hatching.

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Do wheatears migrate?

Wheatears are migratory birds, arriving in the UK in March. They fly south to Africa in September and October.

Where do wheatears live?

They favour open upland habitat in Scotland, northern and south-west England and Wales, although they may also be seen along the coast in other areas while passing through on migration.

Credit: Paul Cousins / WTML

Signs and spotting tips

Look out for these birds between March and October, when they visit the UK. Keep your eyes to the ground in upland areas and you might just spot one of them hopping along the floor.

Wheatear song

Audio: Alexander Henderson / xeno-canto.org

Did you know?

The wheatear makes one of the longest journeys of any small bird, crossing oceans, ice and deserts.

Threats and conservation

The wheatear is widespread and not threatened in the UK. There are estimated to be 230,000 breeding pairs in the UK each year.