Skip to content

Northern Wheatear in northern Spain

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) female, Galicia
Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) female, Galicia

I crept up on this Wheatear, which was sitting on a rock at Cape Bares (Punta de Estaca de Bares) in Galicia, Spain. Punta de Estaca de Bares is the northernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula and sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean (Bay of Biscay). Northern Wheatears are said to be ‘rather local’ in Galicia (1), although I often see them in the spring and summer. Presumably they are on their way north, perhaps to breed in the British Isles, although some do apparently breed in coastal dunes in northern Spain (1).

Coastline at the point (Punta de Estaca de Bares).
Coastline at the point (Punta de Estaca de Bares).

As usual with birds, it is a bit confusing as there are four different subspecies of the Northern Wheatear. The so-called nominate race (Oenanthe oenanthe oenanthe) is mainly a passage migrant in Spain, seen throughout the country on its way north. Northern Wheatears overwinter in a broad band, south of the Sahara in Africa, and fly enormous distances to reach their breeding grounds in northern Europe, Asia and so on. One race, (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorha) flies all the way over to Greenland and Canada to breed, crossing thousands of miles of ocean to get there. The birds that fly up to the UK or Scandinavia, have shorter distances to fly across water, than their Canadian cousins! But it still an incredibly impressive journey to fly all the way from central Africa to say, Scotland! Interestingly, there are morphological differences between the races (or subspecies) which correlate with their life cycles; those birds who migrate over longer distances appear to have adapted longer, more slender and more pointed wings (2).  In other words, the long distance migrants have evolved more aerodynamically efficient wings to enable them to fly fast and get to their breeding grounds as quickly as possible (3). They are starting to evolve into swifts!

 Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) female, Galicia

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) female, Galicia

Another, Mediterranean race (Oenanthe oenanthe libanotica) is a common summer visitor to the north of Spain (1) but I don’t think it was this one I photographed, even though they are said to be quite similar! Where was this bird going then on 29th May this year? Was it going to fly north to Britain perhaps, like me, a few days later? If so it was a bit late. Or was it a local girl, looking for her mate?!

1. Eduardo de Juana & Ernest Garcia (2015).  The Birds of the Iberian PeninsulaChristopher Helm, London. ISBN Number: 978-1-40812-480-2

2. Förschler, Marc I., and Franz Bairlein. “Morphological shifts of the external flight apparatus across the range of a passerine (Northern Wheatear) with diverging migratory behaviour.” PLoS One 6.4 (2011): e18732.

3. Corman, Anna-Marie, Franz Bairlein, and Heiko Schmaljohann. “The nature of the migration route shapes physiological traits and aerodynamic properties in a migratory songbird.” Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 68.3 (2014): 391-402.

rcannon992 View All

I am a retired entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

One thought on “Northern Wheatear in northern Spain Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Q13 FOX News

Seattle and Western Washington's source for breaking news, weather, and sports. Home of Washington’s Most Wanted and the Seattle Seahawks.

Spanish Linguist

a linguist writes about Spanish

Ray Cannon's nature notes

Every picture tells a story

Too Lazy To Weed

The not so ordinary wildlife of an ordinary (but scruffy) garden

Nature etc.

Books, birds and tales from the wild

Juha Lappalainen photography

The way I see the world around me...

Wandering with Butterflies

and other Lepidoptera

Andrew Szopa-Comley

Exploring the natural world.

Ewa Ludwiczak

Watercolour Painting and Illustration

lepscience

A fine WordPress.com site

Macro Photography in Nature

Still sweating the small stuff.

Mia Elizabeth Croft

Ecology, Conservation & Insects

Blogs from the Natural History Museum

Inspiring a love of the natural world

Chris Foster

A naturalist in progress

Mi blog de bichos

Un rincón sobre nuestros artrópodos

%d bloggers like this: