Identification: The Black-eared Wheatear must be about the most bewilderingly plumaged of all the European birds. Not only are there differences between males, females and first winter birds but there are also two different races, eastern and western, and individuals may show various face patterns, some with black faces and throats, some with black faces only and others with no black on the head at all. Males in summer plumage always have a strikingly black head pattern and solidly black wings but are otherwise pale above and below. This eliminates all other wheatears except Desert Wheatear and Finsch’s Wheatear but a Black-eared can be told by its extensively white tail with a narrow black ‘anchor’ and a definite gap between the black wings and the black on the face. Females and first winter birds aren’t nearly as striking but the wings still look generally dark and the indistinct supercilium gives the head a plain, gentle look. In flight, look for the distinctive anchor-shaped ‘T’ in the tail and also strikingly black underwing coverts. Black-eared Wheatears are slim-bodied wheatears with relatively long tails, small heads and fine bills. This combination of features, especially the tail pattern, eliminates all other wheatears except the Pied Wheatears. Having got this far, if the back is either warm orangey-brown or plain brown with virtually no pale fringes then it will almost certainly be a Black-eared. Another feature to look for is a pale crescent separating the throat from the rather orangey breast.
Habitat: Breeds in areas of open ground especially in dry, partly rocky areas.
Distribution: A rare vagrant in spring and autumn. 47 British records up to 1990.
Widespread and easily found throughout southern Europe, especially in rocky areas.
Population: 640-800,000 breeding pairs which comprise probably half the world's population. More than three-quarters of these are found in Spain.