Pied wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka)

French: Traquet pie
GenusOenanthe (1)
SizeLength: 14.5 - 16 cm (2)
Wingspan: 25 - 27 cm (3)
Weight16 - 22 g (2)

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

The pied wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) is a small, migratory songbird that has an extremely large range (4). The male and female have very different plumage to one another during the breeding season. In spring, the male has a distinctive white breast and crown, a black face, and black wings. In contrast, the female pied wheatear is much duller, with greyish-brown plumage and a white lower breast (3).

The song of the pied wheatear is not the most interesting of birdsongs, as it is generally a series of monotonous trillings. However, the song is often accompanied by a high, circling display flight, ending in a magnificent plunge towards the ground (2).

The migratory pied wheatear is found in northeast Africa and southeast Arabia (Yemen) during autumn and most of winter (3) (4). It then migrates to breed in central Asia over spring and summer (2). The pied wheatear remains on its breeding grounds until around August to October (3).

The pied wheatear is also a summer visitor to much of south-eastern Europe; however, its European breeding population is relatively small (3).

The pied wheatear can be found in many different rocky and arid climates, including semi-desert, stony slopes, riverbanks, and cliffs. During the breeding season, the pied wheatear prefers more open, flat and boulder-strewn habitats. However, in winter, this species tends to flock to trees and bushes and prefers slightly less arid country (2).

The pied wheatear is an insectivorous bird; however, when food is sparse, it will supplement its diet with fruits and berries. To gather food, the pied wheatear will usually scan the ground from a perch up to 1.5 metres high, then pursues its prey on foot, hopping and foraging. When in competition with other birds, such as the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)and the Isabelline wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina),the pied wheatear may adopt an aerial approach alongside the perch-and-pounce method, as this allows for an easier getaway from any larger birds (2) (3). The pied wheatear rarely spends much time on the ground (3).

During the breeding season, the pied wheatear may form small colonies, usually consisting of around two to four pairs (2). Nests are found in a hole or crevice in rock or a bank, or even in the walls of buildings. The pied wheatear’s nest is cup-shaped and made up of dry grass and stems, and is lined with finer grasses, as well as wool or hair. Each breeding pair produces around four to six eggs during the breeding season. The female pied wheatear incubates the eggs for 13 to 14 days (3). The length of parental care in the pied wheatear is not well documented, although some records suggest that it may be very short (2).

Although thought of as rare in Britain, the pied wheatear population is thought to be stable. The global population is also very large and, currently, there is little evidence for any specific threats to this species and its habitat (5).

Due to the high population numbers and extremely large range of the pied wheatear there are no known specific conservation efforts in place at present (5).

Learn more about the pied wheatear:

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 (September, 2011)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Avibirds - European Birdguide Online (August, 2011)
  4. Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: Profiles of Birds Occurring in Britain & Ireland (BTO Research Report 407). British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford. Available at:
  5. BirdLife International (August, 2011)