(511) Aenanthe aenanthe aenanthe.
Motacilla aenanthe Linn., S. N., i, p. 186 (1758) (Sweden). saxicola aenanthe. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 76.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description.— Male in summer. Forehead and a broad supercilium white; crown, nape, back and scapulars pale slaty-grey; rump and upper tail-coverts white; central tail-feathers white on the basal third and black on the terminal two-thirds; lateral feathers with two-thirds white and one-third black; lores, cheeks and ear-coverts black; wings black; chin, throat and upper breast bright buff paling to white on centre of abdomen ; under tail-coverts bright buff.
In winter the grey upper parts are fringed with rufescent, the ear-coverts are mixed with rufous; the wing-coverts and quills have broad rufous or whitish margins and the underparts are more buff.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown; bill black; legs and feet dark horny-brown to almost or quite black, the soles paler and claws always black.
Measurements. Total length about 165 mm.; " wing 93 to 99, rarely to 104 mm; culmen 16 to 19 nun."' (Meinertzhagen). Tarsus about 28 mm.
Female. Above rufous-brown, forehead and faint supercilium pale rufous; lores and upper parts of ear-coverts brown; lower parts of ear-coverts rich buff; below buff, richer on throat and breast; rump and upper tail-coverts white; wings dark brown, all the feathers basally edged with rufous.
Nestling above brown, the feathers pale-centred; rump and upper tail-coverts yellowish white; below dull buff, the feathers of breast and flanks edged with brown.
Distribution. Practically the whole of Europe except Crete; all Western Asia to Turkestan, Persia and Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and Baluchistan, wandering across the boundaries of the last two places into the extreme N.W. Provinces, Gilgit and Northern Kashmir.
Meinertzhagen ('Ibis,' 1922, pp. 14-18) recently reviewed the races of AEnanthe aenanthe and has come to the conclusion that the supposed Eastern form argentea cannot be maintained. He seems to have based this conclusion on the material in the Tring Museum and a very large number of Western species available from other sources. There are, however, a good series of Persian and Turkestan males in the British Museum which certainly confirm Lonnberg's description of argentea and vary from typical aenanthe in being somewhat larger but particularly in having the forehead very broadly white. In one or two specimens the white band runs back as far as the back of the eyes and in several others it is nearly as broad. If there is a Turkestan and Persian breeding Wheatear which consistently shows this characteristic it would certainly have to be separated and bear Lonnberg's name of argentea (Saxicola aenanthe argentea, Arkiv f. Zool., v., p. 22, 1909 : Bura, South of Lake Baikal).
As regards our Indian birds two from Quetta appear to belong to this Persian form, whereas the rest are nearer the true aenanthe from Europe and Western Asia.
Nidification. The breeding of the Common Wheatear is almost too well known to require
Description. Its nest of grass, roots and scraps of vegetable rubbish is placed inside a hollow in a rock, cliff or pile of stones, often inside a deserted rat or rabbit burrow, or even in the burrow of a Sand-Martin. The lining is either of finer grass and roots or of fur, wool or hair. The eggs number four to six and, rarely, seven and are a very pale skim-milk blue in colour, occasionally with a few taint freckles of pale reddish at the larger end. The average of 100 eggs (Hartert) is 20.7x15.5 mm.: maxima 23.0x16.1 and 22.0x16.5 mm.; minima 19.0 x 14.5 and 19.3 x 14.0 mm.
The breeding-season is from the end of April to early June varying according to locality.
Habits. Like all the Wheatears this bird is a frequenter of open country, preferably such as is barren and stony but also that which is under cultivation. It captures all its food from some point of vantage on a rock or cliff, dashing from time to time on any unfortunate insect which may cross the ground within its sight and then returning to its original perch. Its flight is undulating but fairly strong and when frightened it flies fast and level until it finds itself in fancied safety. It runs quickly for a pace or two on the ground and occasionally attempts to catch insects on the wing. Its song is sweet but short and rather feeble.