Mourning wheatear (Oenanthe lugens)

French: Traquet deuil
GenusOenanthe (1)
SizeLength: 14 - 16 cm (2)
Weight19 - 25 g (2)

The mourning wheatear is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A bold, monochrome bird, the mourning wheatear (Oenanthe lugens) is notable for having two different colour forms or ‘morphs’. The more common ‘white morphs’ are mainly white, with striking black feathers covering the face and back, and with a black bill and legs (2). The rare ‘black morph’, also known as the basalt wheatear, is completely black, apart from a few white feathers on the underside of the tail (2).

The male and the female mourning wheatear are similar in appearance, although the female has a slightly darker colouration on the throat. The juvenile is sandy in colour, but starts to resemble a dull adult in its first spring (2).

The song of the mourning wheatear comprises phrases lasting five seconds, interspersed with pauses of three to four seconds. These phrases consist of whistles, squeaks, churrs, twangs and ‘chack’ notes, and are repeated a number of times. These songs are used for a variety of different purposes, such as in territorial disputes. The mourning wheatear also has a loud ‘chzak chzak’ alarm call (2).

The mourning wheatear occurs in North Africa from Morocco to Egypt, in East Africa, as far south as Tanzania, and also eastwards through the Middle East to Iran (3).

The rare black morph occurs only in the undulating basalt desert in northeast Jordan (4).

An inhabitant of arid regions, the mourning wheatear can be found in desert, semi-desert, rocky valleys and ravines, and dry riverbeds (2) (5). These areas are typically sloping with a scattering of boulders (2) and sparse vegetation (5).

The mourning wheatear is an omnivore and feeds on ants, beetles, grasshoppers, butterflies and other insects, as well as on plant material, including wild olives and red berries from juniper-like bushes (2).

The nest of the mourning wheatear is a flat cup made of dry grass, stems and roots, lined with rootlets, hair or wool. The nest is typically situated in the deep crevice of a rock, cliff or bank, or under a rock, and a small wall of stones is often placed at the entrance of the hole for protection (2).

The female mourning wheatear lays between three and six eggs, which are pale grey-blue and covered in reddish-brown and violet spots. The eggs are incubated for 13 to 14 days (2) by the female alone (5), and the chicks are able to leave the nest about 14 to 16 days after hatching. If the female produces a second brood, young males from the first brood may assist in finding food for the nestlings (2).

There are currently no known major threats to the mourning wheatear.

The mourning wheatear is known to occur in a number of protected areas throughout its range, such as Ahaggar National Park in Algeria and Dakhla National Park in Morocco (3), but there are no known specific conservation measures in place for this bird.

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (November, 2011)
  4. Khoury, F. and Boulad, N. (2010) Territory size of the Mourning Wheatear Oenanthelugens along an aridity gradient. Journal of Arid Environments, 74(11): 1413-1417.
  5. – Mourning wheatear (February, 2011)