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Northern Wheatear


Kingdom: Animalia      Phylum: Chordata     Class: Aves (Birds)     Order: Passeriformes     Family: Muscicapidae
 

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) is a passage migrant in India. Size: 15 cm. Northern Wheatears occur in open tundra or rocky slopes and stony, mountains habitats. They have a habit of silently watching you from a boulder or rocky outcrop so keep your eyes open.

Identification: Small in size and similar in body shape to bluebirds, Northern Wheatears have a clear gray crown and back. The face is masked with a black cheek-patch overlain by a white supercilium. The throat and breast are a pale-buff that fades into the whitish belly. Wings are grayish brown. Their distinctive tail pattern includes a white rump and tail contrasted with a blackish terminal tail band. In fall and winter, males are strikingly similar females. At a distance, the plumage of the male Northern Wheatear strongly resembles that of the Northern Shrike.

Calls: The scratchy, warbled song of the Northern Wheatear may be mixed with call notes. Often during singing, the male flies high and glides downward with his tail spread. Call notes include a "chak" and a whistled "wheet" that may be combined.

Nests: Ground nests are built in cavities beneath rocks or in abandoned rodent burrows. Both parents loosely make the nest of grasses, roots and mosses and then line it with fine materials. Eggs are 21 mm, pale blue and usually unmarked, but occasionally they may be flecked with red-brown. The female incubates 3-8 eggs for 14 days. After hatching, both parents care for the brood and the young fledge in another 15-16 days. Interestingly, parental care continues even after the young birds learn to fly. The parents divide the brood and feed their respective groups for another 10-11 days.

Food: Their diet includes insects, seeds, berries and an occasional snail, although young birds are probably exclusively fed on insects. By ground gleaning, Northern Wheatears hunt and scavenge for food along the soil's surface. Nervous foragers, these birds also use short flights to hawk flying insects.

Distribution: The Northern Wheatear is a transoceanic migrant that overwinters in India, northern Africa, Arabia, Mongolia and from northern China south to central Africa. Their summer range includes most of Alaska, northern Yukon, central Siberia, coastal Greenland and many of its surrounding islands.
 



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