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Etymology 1[edit]

Uncertain. Probably a back-formation from Middle English whit ers "white arse", after the prominent white rump of many species. Compare dialect forms white rump, white-tail. Possibly a compound of wheat +‎ ear or white +‎ ear. Attested since the seventeenth century as wheat-ears or wheatgear.


Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

wheatear (plural wheatears)

  1. Any of various passerine birds of the genus Oenanthe that feed on insects.
    • 1669, Edward Chamberlayne, Angliae Notitia; or, The Present State of England, London: T.N. for John Martyn, OCLC 228723697, page 6:
      What abundance of Hens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys, Pigeons, and Larks? [...] Maychit, Stint, Sea-Plover, Pewits, Redshanks, Rayles, and Wheat-ears, Herrons, Cranes, Bitterns, Bustards, Puffins, God-wits,
    • 1796, Tobias Smollett, The miscellaneous works of Tobias Smollett, M.D. With memoirs of his life and writings, Edinburgh: J. Mundell, OCLC 225646047, page 21:
      great plenty of the birds so much admired at Tunbridge under the name of wheat-ears. By-the-bye, this is a pleasant corruption of white-a—se, the translation of the French name cul blanc, taken from their color; for they are actually white towards the tail.

Etymology 2[edit]

Compound of wheat +‎ ear


wheatear (plural wheatears)

  1. An ear of wheat.
  2. A decorative pattern resembling an ear of wheat.