Hume’s wheatear (Oenanthe albonigra)

GenusOenanthe (1)
SizeLength: 16.5 - 17 cm (2)
Wingspan: 29 - 30.5 cm (2)
Male weight: 23 - 28 g (2)
Female weight: 22 - 27 g (2)

Hume's wheatear is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Named after Allan Hume, the ornithologist who first identified the bird in 1872 in Pakistan, Hume’s wheatear (Oenanthe albonigra) is a small, conspicuous insectivorous bird. It has a long, stout bill, a rounded head, and short legs (2) (3) (4) (5).

Hume’s wheatear is easily identified by its bold, contrasting black and white plumage (6). The head, throat and pointed wings are black with a slight blue sheen, while the lower back and rump are pure white (4). The tail has a distinctive ‘T’-shaped pattern (7).

The adult female Hume’s wheatear is usually slightly duller than the male, but otherwise both sexes are fairly similar in appearance (2) (4). The juvenile Hume’s wheatear is similar to the adult, but is generally brownish rather than glossy black (4).

Hume’s wheatear can be distinguished from other Oeananthe species by its longer tail (2) (3) (4) and more upright stance (8).

The song of Hume’s wheatear is mostly heard during the breeding season. It is only ever sung by the male, and is usually delivered from high up on a cliff, from a perch, or during flight (4) (7).

The large range of Hume’s wheatear extends from Iraq, eastwards to Pakistan and south to Oman (9).

Hume’s wheatear is commonly found on steep, rocky hillsides. The rocky outcrops and cliffs within this habitat provide Hume’s wheatear with look-outs to spot prey, sources of shade, refuge from predators and rocky holes in which to nest (2) (4).

For feeding, Hume’s wheatear requires gently sloping or flat ground (2) (4), which may be covered in stone, gravel, silt or widely scattered plants (4). Hume’s wheatear has been found at elevations from sea level up to 1,900 metres (2) (4).

A solitary and territorial species, Hume’s wheatear has been described as a bold and fearless bird (4) (10). The diet of Hume’s wheatear consists primarily of insects, such as ants, beetles, flies and termites. Hume’s wheatear may capture its prey by either launching itself onto prey from a low perch, or more commonly by a ‘dash-and-jab’ technique while pursuing its prey in flight (2) (4). It may also feed on small lizards, scorpions and seeds (4).

A monogamous species, the male Hume’s wheatear attracts a mate by displaying to prospective partners. This display involves the male exposing the white colouring on its back by holding the head and tail low. Very little information is available on the breeding biology of Hume’s wheatear, although both the male and the female are known to share the responsibility of feeding the young. The adults continue to provide for the young for some time after the young have fledged (4).

There are currently no known major threats to Hume’s wheatear (9).

Due to its large range and lack of major threats (9), Hume’s wheatear is currently not known to be the focus of any specific conservation measures.

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. Snow, D. and Perrins, C. (1998) The Birds of the Western Paleartic. Volume 2, Passeriformes. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Hume, A. (1873) Stray Feathers. Journal of Ornithology for India and its dependencies; Volume 1. William Wesley & Son, Booksellers & Publishers, London.
  4. Cramp, S. (1988) Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Kaboli, M., Aliabadian, M., Guillaumet, A., Roselaar, C.S. and Prodon, R. (2007) Ecomorphology of the wheatears (genus Oenanthe). Ibis, 149: 792-805.
  6. Vine, P. (1996) Natural Emirates: Wildlife and Environment of the United Arab Emirates. Trident Press, London.
  7. Beaman, M. and Madge, S. (1998) The Handbook of Bird Identification: For Europe and the Western Palearctic. Christopher Helm Publishers, London.
  8. Hollum, P., Porter, R., Christensen, S. and Willis, I. (1988) Birds of the Middle East and North Africa. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Staffordshire.
  9. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  10. Shipley, A. (1924) Fauna of British India, Birds. Volume 2. Taylor and Francis, London.

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  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2009)