Bird of the Month – May 2021

Black-eared WheatearBlack-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica our bird of the month and here the header photograph shows a male Black-eared Wheatear, so called black-throated morph in the foreground. The other form of male can be seen in the background, the pale-throated morph has a distinct black eye stripe and lacks the black cheeks and throat.

A fairly small species of wheatear and long-tailed, this species nests in our region occupying a diverse number of habitats including dry rocky hillsides, gorges, sparsely tree covered hillsides, dry river valleys, vineyards to margins of cultivated fields including olive groves. Our birds are long-distance migrants, the entire population winters in Africa south of the Sahara, departing our shores throughout August and September, although some as early as July. Most birds returning to breed arrive in late March to early April, normally with the males arriving first followed by the females. From my own observation they tend to be single brooded in my mountain area, occasionally an odd pair will raise 2 broods, although they are said to be double-brooded in southern Spain.

Black-eared Wheatear
Min. 3 cyr male pale morph.

Two races of Black-eared Wheatear are recognized and the difference is most readily seen with males. Roughly these two races are divided geographically between the western and eastern distributions. Our birds are of the race O.h.hispanica whilst the eastern race is O.h.melanoleuca. The breeding range of this species is concentrated around the Mediterranean, through the Balkans, Caucasus to Iran and the E.Caspian Sea.

Summer (yellow) and winter (blue) distribution of Black-eared Wheatear.

It is a species that has seen a recent and sharp decline, even in areas where changing agricultural practices have not yet damaged habitats; one is left to wonder if the main problem with this decline is due to changes in their wintering grounds or the main migration routes.

Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones

Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.

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