WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Traquet motteux

 

The Wheatear is a bird of the mountains in Switzerland - occurring only above the tree line between about 1800m - 2800m, a landscape of scrubby vegetation and rocks. Its plumage matches well with the latter and it can be very hard to find, and even harder to get close to as it is a nervous bird and your approach is obvious !  The name Wheatear has nothing to do with the fine black ear coverts sported by the male, but is actually a corruption of the old English slang term for it - "white-arse" - because guess what ? That white rump is often the sign that gives it away as it flies away from you.

Its song is very complex, a rapid snatched phrase of all sorts of warbling, scratching and rattling sounds, often delivered form a perch which is raised above the rest of the land - even if this is only a slightly higher rock:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The complexity is easily seen in the sonogram:

Both those recordings were made in early summer with a  full flush of insects buzzing in the background - the hover flies in particular are impressive in the Swiss mountains !

The song can also be delivered in a short flight where the bird almost hovers, maybe 10 m up fluttering above its territory, yelling out its song to the ground below, in this case the delivery is more hectic and  aggressive, listen to the two phrases at 2s and 20 s in the following:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

But Wheatears are capable of all sorts of other sounds, this bird made a set of piercing noises almost like screams:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

That screaming noise making a very different pattern in the sonogram and you can also see that there are some extremely high-frequency harmonics in the song - higher than 10Khz:

Wheatears are also said to be able to mimic other species, although the song is such a rapid-fire affair I am not sure how you are supposed to pick out anything, but I did wonder whether this bird had been harassed by photographers as it made a wonderful rattling noise that to my ears sounded just like the motor-wind on a camera:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The speed of delivery of that rattle is really impressive and it is hard to see on the sonogram, it reminds me of the rattling sound made by the Black Redstart:

That rattle also sounds a bit like someone shaking small stones in a bag - and maybe this fits a bird of stoney hillsides ? But that  sound also occurs in its alarm call which maybe simply a plaintive "hweet" sound but is more likely a "hweet" call separated by a variable number of hard explosive "chack!" sounds like two rocks being knocked together:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and that alarm is very like a Stonechat - it is interesting that these closely related chats make such similar mechanical noises, you have to listen carefully in the following comparison to tell the two apart, the Stonechat "hweet" is slightly higher in pitch, but it is hard - Wheatear comes first Stonechat second:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Finally here are two male Wheatears chasing around the rocks calling at each other in what seemed like a territorial dispute:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Go to top