Friday, 6 January 2012

White-arse here and a Wheatear there

Not only does Fair isle welcome seabirds to breed but we also wait for a Sub-Saharan migrant ' The Wheatear' to return every spring. They arrive about March time after wintering in central Africa and leave again in September/October.

Male Wheatear
The name 'White-arse' comes from the fact it has a white rump and usually that is all we see when its flying away. Also when this species was first descibed in 1758,  The term refered to the birds returning to Greece just when the first grape vines blossomed. They eat mostly insects and larva with the occasional berries and nest mostly on moorland in stone walls, rocky crevices and burrows which means Fair isle has ideal breeding habitat.

Female Wheatear
Digi-scoped Image
We get two races of Wheatear which visit the island. We have the Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) which is  a summer migrant to the Britian and we have the larger Greenland Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa)  which is only a passage migrant to the UK  where they head up to there Breeding grounds in Greenland.

Birds will use anything for a perch
During end of June and July, I noticed no matter which way you looked, there was several Wheatears on every fence line. I could guarentee when I opened my bed room curtains, the Wheatear would of been one of the 1st birds I see. There was family parties scattered around the island and is always a joy to watch.

The adult is warning its fledglings
that there was potential danger nearby
Just fledged the nest that afternoon being looked after by its parents
This fledgling would of left the nest a week before I took the photo
and was already feeding independently
As part of a univeristy study, Adam Seward had been researching Wheatears that pass through Fair Isle.  He has been studying the impact of climate change of migratory birds where he chose this species as it has one of the most challenging migrations of any passerine. As part of the project, he has been colour ringing them, and when he is not on the island, The observatory  continues the colour ring and sends any data back to Adam.

If any body has seen any colour ringed Wheatears, we would love to know the date, the time and where you have seen them. You can send your sighting(s) to British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Fair isle Bird Observatory and Adam Seward.

For more Information about Adam whether its about it Wheatear study or his spectacular Earth in Focus photography then please click on the links below:



BTO (Report a Ringed Bird):


  1. Nice post Bex, about one of favourite birds! Spring just wouldn't be spring without seeing your first Wheatear! I had a colour-ringed bird out on Buness when i was on the isle back in Sept which i'll send in the details for. Happy New Year by the way see you back at the obs in Sept 2012!

  2. Happy New year to you too, Hope you had a good Christmas!!

    The wheatear is defo a bird to look out for each spring.....but I think the willow warbler and the swallow does it for me!