Family Old World Flycatchers and Chats (Muscicapidae)

Least Concern

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)


French: Traquet motteux German: Steinschmätzer Spanish: Collalba gris

Motacilla Oenanthe


, 1758,



Has in the past been considered conspecific with O. phillipsi. Usually considered conspecific with O. seebohmi (which see). Birds in Iceland, Jan Mayen and Faroes included in race leucorhoa, but intermediate between that and nominate. Proposed races nivea (S Spain and Balearic Is) and virago (islands of E & S Aegean, in SE Europe) regarded as synonyms of libanotica. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • O. o. leucorhoa (J. F. Gmelin, 1789) – NE Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Jan Mayen and Faroe Is; non-breeding W Africa (mainly S Mauritania, Senegambia and C & S Mali).
  • O. o. oenanthe (Linnaeus, 1758) – N & C Europe and N Asia (S to N Kazakhstan and L Baikal) E to E Siberia (Chukotka) and NW North America (Alaska, NW Canada); non-breeding mainly Africa S of Sahara (S to N & E Zambia and Malawi), with small numbers in Morocco.
  • O. o. libanotica (Hemprich & Ehrenberg, 1833) – S Europe, Asia Minor, Levant, Transcaucasia, N & C Iran, Turkmenistan, N Afghanistan, Tien Shan, Mongolia, S Transbaikalia and N China (Xinjiang E to Shanxi); non-breeding mainly Africa S of Sahara.
  • Descriptive notes

    14·5–15·5 cm; 18–33 g (pre-migration leucorhoa up to 41 g). Breeding male nominate race is pale grey from crown to back, with black wings,... read more


    Song, by male (also in winter quarters, usually subsong), from perch or in flight at 15–30 m... read more


    Breeds in open ground mixing bare rocky areas (foraging perches, nesting substrate) and short herb... read more

    Food and feeding

    Arthropods, mainly insects (predominantly beetles and ants, latter especially in hotter areas) taken on ground, supplemented by other... read more


    Early May to Jun in C & S Europe, early/mid-Apr to end Jul or early Aug in NW Europe, late May and Jun in Iceland, and early May or mid... read more


    Migrant, with remarkable capacity for long-distance travel, and possibly geographically widest... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Generally common throughout range; fairly common in N & NW China. Total wintering in Africa, thus representing global population... read more

    Recommended citation

    Collar, N. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 27 January 2020).