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Pied Wheatear - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Oleg Chernyshov
Inya, Altay Republic, West Siberia, Russia, May 2012
Oenanthe pleschanka


Photo © by Albzm7
Abu Dhabi, UAE, September 2006

14·5–16 cm (5¾-6¼ in)
Males look strikingly black-and-white, with white undertail coverts, no white in the wing in flight, an anchor-shaped tail pattern (frequently looking broken), and often, a buff or yellowish flush on the upper breast.
First winter males may show a combination of blackish throat and orangey-colouring on the breast, suggesting Cyprus Pied Wheatear but with less contrast between these two areas and with a much paler back. Cyprus Wheatear has a wider black terminal band on the tail.

It is the females which cause the greatest problems, especially in autumn or winter when they can look almost identical to some Eastern Black-eared Wheatears and possibly also Western Black-eared Wheatears. Pied Wheatears though have more obvious pale fringes on the upperparts (which are usually a colder, greyer brown) and if they show any orangey colour on the breast it will merge gradually into the black or plain brown of the throat.
Identification of younger birds of this species versus Black-eared Wheatear is discussed in a thread in the Identification forum


1st Winter Male
Photo © by alsirhan
Kuwait, Tulha, October 2007

Breeds in dry, stony areas in the far east of Europe from the Black Sea coasts in the northeast of Bulgaria through eastern Romania, Moldova, southern Ukraine and southernmost Russia, and across southwest and central Asia from Kazakhstan and easternmost Turkey east to northern China.

Migrates through southwest Asia (mostly east of Jordan, few west to Israel) and northeast Africa, and winters in southwestern Arabia and tropical eastern Africa, south as far as Tanzania.

The non-Russian European total of 3-6,000 pairs are found almost entirely in Romania, plus some in Moldova and Bulgaria. Over 100 000 pairs also breed from the Crimean Penisula eastwards into Asia.

Widely recorded as a vagrant, in e.g. Britain, Finland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Montenegro, Greece (including Crete, Lesvos, Rhodes), Malta, Libya, Egypt, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and South Africa.


Moulting into winter plumage
Photo © by AJDH
Badaan Farm, Bahrain, October 2008

This is a monotypic species[1], but with two morphs, black-throated and white-throated, the latter formerly sometimes treated as a subspecies O. p. vittata. The black-throated morph dominates, comprising 92-98% of the population[2].

Formerly classed as a member of the Thrush family (Turdidae), now generally considered to be an Old-World Flycatcher (Family Muscicapidae).


Arid rocky and scrubby areas especially at sites by the coast such as cliff-tops. Desert and semi-desert.



The diet consists mostly of insects, such as ants and beetles, with the addition of autumn fruit.


They nest on open, stony, sparsely vegetated habitats, laying 4-6 eggs in a rock crevice under a boulder.



Click on photo for larger image


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and D Christie, eds. 2005. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334726
  3. Avibase
  4. Wikipedia
  5. BF Member observations
  6. Birdforum thread discussing id of Cyprus and Pied Wheatears
  7. Collins Bird Guide ISBN 0 00 219728 6

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