Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 5,280,000-15,800,000 pairs, which equates to 10,600,000-31,500,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). There are an estimated 100-10,000 breeding pairs and 50-1,000 individuals on migration in China, and 100-100,000 breeding pairs and 50-10,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009). It is likely that the global population falls into the band 10,000,000-500,000,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
In Europe, trends between 1980 and 2013 show that populations have undergone a moderate decline (EBCC 2015).


During the breeding season this species occupies open ground including open stony estuarine plains with sparse clumps of vegetation; sand dunes; shingle stretches; clifftops; coastal islands; heavily grazed heathland and downland; moors; meadows; walled fields; stone-studded bogs; open submontane shrubland; rocky alpine meadows; streamside bluffs, and lowland and montane tundra above the tree-line. Breeding occurs from early May to June in central and southern Europe, early/mid-April to the end of July or early August in north-west Europe, late May and June in Iceland, early or mid-May to early July in Scandinavia, June-July in eastern Siberia, May-August in Mongolia and mid-May-early August in North America. The nest is an unlined cup of leaves, stems, moss, lichen, feathers and hair bedded on a cradle and foundation of dried stems and grasses and set in a well-sheltered rock cavity, narrow crevice, rodent burrow, hole in a wall or under stones. Clutches are four to eight eggs. It feeds on arthropods, particularly insects. The species is a long-distance migrant, with the entire population wintering in Africa, including those birds breeding in North America (Collar and de Juana 2015).


In many western and central European countries it has declined due to habitat change through agricultural intensification and urbanization. In some countries a reduction in sheep-farming has reduced the amount of short-grass habitat much favoured by species. In the past droughts in the Sahel wintering quarters may also have caused declines. In Europe, it used to be trapped for food and is still taken in large numbers in parts of Mediterranean Basin and northern Africa (Collar and de Juana 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. Bern Convention Appendix II. In Russia and most European countries the species is protected and in some parts of it range, such as in the U.K., artificial nesting sites have been created leading to an increase in the number of breeding birds in these areas (Kren and Zoerb 1997).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Research has proposed that landscape management for a mixture of short and tall vegetation would allow the dispersal of arthropods and be beneficial for this species (Oosten et al. 2014). It is also suggested that multi-site studies should be undertaken to determine appropriate conservation actions locally and in the short-term (Oosten et al. 2015).


Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Khwaja, N.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Oenanthe oenanthe. Downloaded from on 09/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 09/12/2023.