Autumn migration is an annual event that is eagerly anticipated by us local birders and photographers alike. Autumn marks the southern passage of migratory birds who have completed their breeding cycle and are now heading to their wintering grounds in Africa.
Species passing through Kuwait are made up of 1st year birds (juveniles) and adults, the majority which have already lost their breeding plumage and are now in their drabber winter plumage. These new and worn plumages certainly create a challenge for birders in terms of identification of some of the more tricky families.
Wheatears are one of those difficult to identify families in autumn and in Kuwait, we have now recorded 13 species of Wheatear. The 13th species was a Variable Wheatear that was only recorded for the first time in Kuwait, just earlier this year. There are 23 species of Wheatear in the world of which 56% (13) have been recorded in Kuwait; that is pretty impressive!
Wheatears are terrestrial insectivorous passerines of the genus Oenanthe and is considered an Old World Group with the exception of Northern Wheatear which has established populations in eastern and western Canada, Greenland and Alaska. Most of the Wheatears are sexually dimorphic; meaning that only the male has a striking plumage (predominantly in breeding season), though the females do share the white or red rump patches.
The name Wheatear is not derived from ‘wheat’ or any sense of ‘ear’, but is rather a linguistic corruption from the 16th century of ‘white’ and ‘arse’; referring to the prominent white rump found in most species.
During both autumn and spring passage, the most common Wheatears found in Kuwait are; Northern, Isabelline, Desert, Eastern Black-eared, Pied and Eastern Mourning whilst Red-tailed is a winter visitor.
The uncommon, rare and vagrant Wheatears occurring in Kuwait are; Finsch’s, White-crowned, Kurdistan, Hooded, Hume’s and Variable.