wheatear



wheatear defined in 1930 year

wheatear - Wheatear;
wheatear - Upper parts bluish grey; wings and wing-coverts, centre and extremity of the tail, feet, bill, and area comprising the nostrils, eyes, and ears, black; base and lower portion of the side of the tail pure white; chin, forehead, stripe over the eye, and under parts, white. In autumn, upper parts reddish brown and tail feathers tipped with white. Female: upper parts ash-brown tinged with yellow; stripe over the eye dingy. Length, six and a half inches.

To those who are attracted to solitary, desert places, who find in wildness a charm superior to all others, the wheatear, conspicuous in black and white and bluish grey plumage, is a familiar figure - a pretty little wild friend; for he, too, prefers the uncultivated wastes, the vast downs, the mountain slopes, and the stony barren uplands. He is one of the earliest, if not the first, of the summer migrants to arrive on our shores. They appear early in March, sometimes at the end of February, on the south and east coasts, after crossing the Channel by night or during the early hours of the morning. They come in ' rushes,' at intervals of two or three days. In the morning they are seen in thousands; but after a few hours' rest these travellers hurry on to their distant breeding-grounds, and perhaps for a day or two scarcely a bird will be visible; then another multitude appears, and so on, until the entire vast army has distributed itself far and wide over the British area, from the Sussex and Dorset coasts to the extreme North of Scotland and the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and Shetlands. The return migration begins early in August, and lasts until the middle of September. During this period the downs on the Sussex coast form a great camping-ground of the wheatears, and they are then taken in snares by the shepherds for the markets. Most of the birds taken are young; they are excessively fat, and are esteemed a great delicacy. The wheatear harvest has, however, now dwindled down to something very small compared with former times; it astonishes us to read in Pennant that a century and a quarter ago eighteen hundred dozens of these birds were annually taken in the neighbourhood of Eastbourne alone. The great decrease in the number of wheatears is no doubt due to the reclamation of waste lands, where this bird finds the conditions suited to it. To a variety of climates it is able to adapt itself: the vast area it inhabits includes almost the whole continent of Europe, from the hot south to the furthermost north; and westwards its range extends to Iceland, Greenland, and Labrador. But cultivation it cannot tolerate: when the plough comes the wheatear vanishes. Fortunately, there must always be waste and desert places - the scattered areas on mountain-sides, barren moors and downs, and rocky coasts, that cannot be made productive. In such spots the wheatear is an unfailing summer companion, and at once attracts attention by his appearance and motions. He is fond of perching on a rock, stone wall, or other elevation, but seldom alights on bushes and trees. He runs rapidly and freely on the ground, and, pausing at intervals and standing erect, moves his tail deliberately up and down. He flies readily, his rump and tail flashing white aa he rises; and after going but a short distance, flying close to the ground, he alights again, and jerks and fans his tail two or three times. He feeds on grubs, small beetles, and other insects picked up from the ground, but also pursues and catches flying insects. He has a short, sharp call-note that sounds like two pieces of stone struck smartly together; hence the name of ' stone-clatter,' by which he is known in some localities. His short and simple song would attract little attention in groves and gardens; it is charming on account of the barren, silent situations it is heard in. It gives life to the solitude, and is a love-song, accompanied by pretty gesture? and motions, and is frequently uttered as the bird hovers in the air.

The wheatear breeds in a cavity under a stone, or in a hole or crevice in a stone wall; also in cairns and in the cavities in peat- stacks, and occasionally in a disused rabbit-burrow or under a clod of earth. The nest is made of dry grass, loosely put together and slightly lined with some soft material - moss and rootlets, rabbits' fur, horsehair, or wool, or feathers. From four to seven eggs are laid, pale greenish blue in colour, in some cases faintly marked with purplish specks at the large end.

The wheatear, owing to its wide distribution in this country, is known by a variety of local names in different districts; of these may be mentioned fallowchat, whitetail, stone-cracker, chack-bird, and clod-hopper.

Two other species of the genus Saxicola have been included in the list of British birds. These are the black-throated wheatear (Saxicola strapazind), of which a single specimen has been obtained, and the desert wheatear (Saxicola desertt), of which two or three specimens have been shot.

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