Bird of the Week – Week 104 – Mountain wheatear

Let’s concede that “Wheatear” is a strange name for a bird! Very odd. Apparently the name owes its derivation to neither wheat nor ears, but to the Old English words for “white rump”, or more crudely (but more accurately), “white arse”.  This makes a little more sense as, certainly in the case of the Mountain wheatear, the white rump is one of the bird’s distinctive features.

Mountain wheatear

The Mountain wheatear is a fairly small bird, with a length of approximately 20 cm; the males and females are the same size. Although there are several colour morphs to be found, most of the male birds in the southern African region have black upperparts with white shoulder patches and grey crowns. The belly and vent are white. Some birds lack the grey crown, and some birds are largely grey instead of black. Females are quite dissimilar to the males in plumage, being largely dull black to brown in colour. They lack the shoulder patches and grey crowns but share the distinctive white rump. The pointed bills are black; legs and feet are black and eyes are brown.

Mountain wheatear

The Mountain wheatears is considered a near-endemic to the southern African region, with a range that extends out of the region into southern Angola. Their preferred habitat is fairly open, rocky areas, particularly boulder strewn hillsides.

The Mountain wheatear feeds mainly on invertebrates, usually foraging on the ground for insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, but will also eat spiders and centipedes. They will sometimes forage from a perch, and hawk for insects in the air.

Mountain wheatear

The song of the Mountain wheatear is a clear, rather melodious trill or whistle.

The nest of the Mountain wheatear, which is monogamous, is a shallow cup that is constructed on top of a platform of grass, woody twigs and/or moss, and the nest is usually located close to a rock or in a crevice. They will also make use of nesting boxes if available. The female lays a clutch of two to four eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately fourteen days. The nest may be parasitized by the Diderick cuckoo (Chrysococcyx caprius).

Mountain wheatear

The scientific binomial for the Mountain wheatear is Oenanthe monticola; Oenanthe from the Greek for a “wheatear”, but originating from the Greek words for “wine flower”, apparently in reference to the bird appearing at the time the grapes are ripening; and monticola from the Latin for “living in the mountains”. Thus a Mountain wheatear; can’t say clearer than that!

Mountain wheatear

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