Not to be confused with "ear of wheat".

Northern wheatear (male)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Muscicapidae
Genus: Oenanthe
Vieillot, 1816

See text.

The wheatears are passerine birds of the genus Oenanthe. They were formerly considered to be members of the thrush family Turdidae, but are now more commonly placed in the flycatcher family Muscicapidae. This is an Old World group, but the northern wheatear has established a foothold in eastern Canada and Greenland and in western Canada and Alaska.


  • Etymology 1
  • Description 2
  • Species list 3
  • Behaviour 4
  • Fossil record 5
  • References 6


The name "wheatear" is not derived from "wheat" or any sense of "ear", but is a 16th-century linguistic corruption of "white" and "arse", referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.[1]

Oenanthe is also the name of a plant genus, the water dropworts, and is derived from the Greek oenos (οίνος) "wine" and anthos (ανθός) "flower". In the case of the plant genus, it refers to the wine-like scent of the flowers.[2] In the case of the wheatear, it refers to the Northern wheatear's return to Greece in the spring just as the grapevines blossom.[3]


Most species have characteristic black and white or red and white markings on their rumps or their long tails. Most species are strongly sexually dimorphic; only the male has the striking plumage patterns characteristic of the genus, though the females share the white or red rump patches.

Species list

Mountain wheatear

There are 23 wheatear species:[4]


Wheatears are terrestrial insectivorous birds of open, often dry, country. They often nest in rock crevices or disused burrows. Northern species are long-distance migrants, wintering in Africa.

Fossil record

  • Oenanthe kormosi (Late Miocenee of Polgardi, Hungary) [5]
  • Oenanthe pongraczi (Plioceme of Csarnota, Hungary) [5]


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  5. ^ a b Kessler, E. 2013. Neogene songbirds (Aves, Passeriformes) from Hungary. – Hantkeniana, Budapest, 2013, 8: 37-149.