The Wheatear’s impressive migratory behavior –

Little bird, big way

A well-travelled songbird is currently breeding in the mountainous areas of Switzerland. Now the mystery of the wheatear and its long journey could be solved.

According to the Ornithological station Sempach you can observe the wheatear in its breeding areas in Switzerland. It can be found in the mountains, especially on alpine pastures, which are interspersed with stones and boulders. He is a conspicuous appearance due to his high-contrast drawing – his dark face mask characterizes him.

long-haul flight

However, the little bird not only looks good, but also reveals a spectacular migration behavior. Its breeding ranges are distributed throughout the northern hemisphere, but the entire population overwinters in the Sahel region of Africa. The insectivore prefers open habitats with short vegetation, such as steppes or pastures, for breeding, writes the Sempach ornithological station. In Switzerland, the mountain bird is mainly found in the Alps and in the western Jura.

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The Wheatears from Alaska have the most impressive migratory behaviour, they fly the longest route of all: an unbelievable 15,000 kilometres. They fly all over the continent of Asia to Africa. The Canadian Wheatears also cover a considerable distance. They fly non-stop across the Atlantic and the Strait of Gibraltar to Africa. They fly 3000 kilometers in one go.

The Swiss mountain bird

A research team from the Sempach ornithological station found out that the Swiss wheatear does not have to fly that far. So far, the migration path was still unknown. Wheatears from Ticino, the Hohe Tauern (Austria) and Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany) were equipped with geolocators. Geolocators are ultra-light measuring devices that provide information about the migration route of birds. Scientists found out that wheatears with the breeding area in the Swiss and Austrian Alps choose the direct route via Italy and the Mediterranean. However, birds from Rhineland-Palatinate bypass the Alps and migrate to Africa via the Iberian Peninsula and the Strait of Gibraltar.

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The Wheatear will remain at its breeding sites in the Alps until the end of the breeding season in mid-August, according to the Sempach Ornithological Institute.

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