Desert wheatear -- 漠鵖 (Oenanthe deserti)

Male desert wheatear singing
Loading more images and videos...

Desert wheatear fact file

Desert wheatear description

GenusOenanthe (1)

As its name suggests, the desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) is a desert-dwelling bird, with largely sandy-brown plumage which matches well with its arid habitat. During the breeding season, the male desert wheatear has a contrasting black face and throat, black wings and an almost all-black tail, while the lower back and rump are creamy white, and there are whitish streaks above the eyes and on the shoulders (2) (3) (4) (5). The beak and legs are black (2) (4). Outside of the breeding season, the male has a more greyish face (2). The female desert wheatear is duller than the male, with brownish rather than black markings (2) (4), while the juvenile is similar to the female, but has buff spotting above and fine brown scaling on the breast (2). The song of the male desert wheatear, given in flight or from the ground, is described as a distinctive series of short, variable phrases of slightly mournful-sounding whistles, interspersed with grating churrs and dry or twittering trills (2) (3). The female also occasionally sings, with more uniform phrases. The calls of this species also include a whistled swiii, a hard tuk and a rolling chrr (2).

The desert warbler is sometimes divided into a number of subspecies, including Oenanthe deserti deserti, Oenanthe deserti homochroa, Oenanthe deserti oreophila and Oenanthe deserti atrogularis, which vary slightly in size and colouration (2) (3) (4). The male desert wheatear resembles the related black-eared wheatear (Oenanthe hispanica), but is distinguished by a black line linking the black of the wings and throat, a blacker tail and a less distinct white line above the eye (3) (5). Female and juvenile desert wheatears closely resemble the female Isabelline wheatear (Oenanthe isabellina), but are smaller, and have a black wing lining and a blacker tail (4) (5).

Traquet du désert.
Length: 14 - 15 cm (2)
15 - 34 g (2)

Desert wheatear biology

This desert-dweller spends most of its time on the ground, perching on stones or low bushes and hopping to the ground to catch prey, which includes a range of insects and other invertebrates (2) (3) (4). It will also dart into the air to catch flying insects (2) (4), and occasionally also eats small seeds (2).

The desert wheatear nests in burrows (such as old rodent burrows), under bushes, in holes in walls or rock faces, under stones or among exposed roots. The nest is constructed from grass, roots, twigs and other materials, and lined with wool, hair, feathers or grass (2) (4). Breeding usually takes place between February and July, although the exact timing depends on the location (2). Between 3 and 6 bluish-green, reddish-speckled eggs are laid, and hatch after 13 to 14 days (2) (4). The young desert wheatears leave the nest at 15 to 18 days old, and are dependent on the adults for up to a further 3 weeks (2).


Desert wheatear range

The desert wheatear occurs across North Africa, through the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, and into Asia, as far east as China (2) (4) (6). It is also sometimes recorded outside of its normal range, in parts of Europe (2) (5) (6). This species is migratory, with populations generally moving southwards in winter (2) (4).


Desert wheatear habitat

The desert wheatear inhabits rocky or sandy dry steppes, desert and semi-desert plains with sparse vegetation, as well as salt flats, dry riverbeds and wadis, and arid cultivated land (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). In sandy areas, this species requires either a hard substrate for burrow-nesting, or bushes or rocks in which to nest in shelter (2).


Desert wheatear status

The desert wheatear is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Desert wheatear threats

The desert wheatear is widespread and is common throughout most of its range (2) (6), and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (6). This species is not known to be facing any major threats.


Desert wheatear conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for the desert wheatear. However, it is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species, which aims to protect migratory species throughout their range (7).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Find out more

To find out more about the desert wheatear, see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
A vast grassland plain, characterised by few trees and low rainfall.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Mountain canyons found in North Africa and the Middle East that only carry water when it rains.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2005) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Jonsson, L. (1982) Birds of the Mediterranean and Alps. Croom Helm, London.
  4. Whistler, H. (1963) Popular Handbook of Indian Birds. Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh.
  5. Peterson, R.T., Mountfort, G. and Hollom, P.A.D. (1993) Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  7. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (November, 2010)

Image credit

Male desert wheatear singing  
Male desert wheatear singing

© Neil Bowman /

FLPA - images of nature
Pages Green House
Suffolk IP14 5QA
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1728 861 113
Fax: +44 (0) 1728 860 222


Link to this photo

Arkive species - Desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.

Terms of Use - The displayed portlet may be used as a link from your website to Arkive's online content for private, scientific, conservation or educational purposes only. It may NOT be used within Apps.

Read more about



MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite Arkive images and videos and share them with friends.

Play the Team WILD game:

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction.

Conservation in Action

Which species are on the road to recovery? Find out now »

This species is featured in:

This species is featured in Jewels of the UAE, which showcases biodiversity found in the United Arab Emirates in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

Help us share the wonders of the natural world. Donate today!


Back To Top