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What to look for this week - Wheatears

Published: 29 April 2020

Wheater DrawingIn the first of our ‘What to look for this Week’ feature highlighting what you might see in your garden or on your daily walk, our Natural Heritage expert Paul Harvey introduces us to Wheatears.

Look out for Wheatears (Stenshakkers) this week. Just now they will be heading north in their droves after spending the winter in Southern Europe or North Africa. They are one of our earliest spring migrants. The males usually arrive first as they have to set up a territory - the females will come a little later and will be on the lookout for males with the best territory as that gives them the best chance of raising a family.


How to spot


Somewhere between a Robin and a Starling in size, the most obvious feature is their flashing white rump and tail-base when they fly away. This along with their black highwayman's mask is diagnostic. They tend to perch very upright and make little effort to hide themselves. The males are usually greyer on the back with a more prominent face pattern, the females have browner upper parts and a less striking face pattern.

Surveys carried out for SAT by an army of volunteers in Shetland suggest that between 7,000 and 10,000 pairs breed here. They also breed much further north too - into Greenland. Those breeding farthest north tend to have the longest wings - they have further to fly when they migrate! Some breed in North America and winter in sub-Saharan Africa and miniature tracking device have shown that some individuals fly over 18,000 miles before returning to their breeding grounds again! Staggering stuff!

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