AppearanceThe northern wheatear is larger than the European Robin at 14½–16 cm length. Both sexes have a white rump and tail, with a black inverted T-pattern at the end of the tail.
The plumage of the summer male has grey upperparts, buff throat and black wings and face mask. In autumn it resembles the female apart from the black wings. The female is pale brown above and buff below with darker brown wings. The male has a whistling, crackly song. Its call is a typical chat ''chack'' noise.
DistributionThe northern wheatear is a migratory insectivorous species breeding in open stony country in Europe and Asia with footholds in northeastern Canada and Greenland as well as in northwestern Canada and Alaska. It nests in rock crevices and rabbit burrows. All birds spend most of their winter in Africa.
StatusThe northern wheatear has an extensive range, estimated at 2.3 million square kilometres, and a large population estimated at 2.9 million individuals in the Old World and the Americas combined. The species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List, and is therefore evaluated as Least Concern.
MigrationMiniature tracking devices have recently shown that the northern wheatear has one of the longest migratory flights known - 30,000 km, from sub-Saharan Africa to their Arctic breeding grounds.
"The Alaskan birds travelled almost 15,000km each way - crossing Siberia and the Arabian Desert, and travelling, on average, 290km per day. "This is the longest recorded migration for a songbird as far as we know," said Dr Schmaljohann.
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