[CT Birds] Ageing & sexing Northern Wheatears

Julian Hough jrhough1 at snet.net
Sat Sep 12 19:11:22 EDT 2009

I'd just like to address Hugh's comments about the Sikorsky bird and to try 
to elucidate on trying to age and sex Northern Wheatears, since I feel the 
term "sub-adult" is somewhat innacurate. I hope the following is clear and 
helps the situation.

In fall, adult wheatears undergo a complete moult to winter plumage where
the summer plumage is hidden beneath the new winter feathers that have
In fall, adult males are recognisable in that they still show the black
mask, white supercilium, grey upperparts and peachy breast of adult summer 
plumage showing
The Sikorsky bird is a typical example of an adult male in fall.

The other alternative to an adult male at this time of year would be a
first-winter male and these are indistinguishable in the field from
first-year females and first-year males (Svensson 1992).

Any "brown" or non-adult males (eg. the sikorsky bird) in fall are either 
female, first-year male or first-year female. All these look identical to
each other under field conditions. In spring wheatears attain breeding
plumage through wear and 2nd-cycle birds are separable from adults due to 
worn-brown (retained juv) coverts and primaries.

To clarify the situation, there really is no "sub-adult" plumage of Northern
Wheatear - in fall they're either adult or first-year, and first-years do
not ever look like the Sikorsky bird. I'm unsure as to the "barring"
mentioned, since this isn't visible in any photos I have looked at.


More information about the CTBirds mailing list