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Eurasian Wryneck (jynx torquilla) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Eurasian Wryneck (jynx torquilla)

[order] Piciformes | [family] Picidae | [latin] Jynx torquilla | [UK] Wryneck | [FR] Torcol fourmilier | [DE] Wendehals | [ES] Torcecuello de África Tropical | [IT] Torcicollo eurasiatico | [NL] Draaihals


spanwidth min.: 25 cm

spanwidth max.: 27 cm

size min.: 16 cm

size max.: 17 cm


incubation min.: 11 days

incubation max.: 14 days

fledging min.: 18 days

fledging max.: 22 days

broods 2

eggs min.: 6

eggs max.: 10


These birds get their English name from their ability to turn their heads through almost 180 degrees. When disturbed at the nest, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. This odd behaviour led to their use in witchcraft, hence to put a "jinx" on someone. The genus name Jynx is from the Ancient Greek name for this bird, iunx. The specific torquilla is Medieval Latin derived from torquere, to twist, referring to the strange snake-head movements. The bird was used as a charm to bring back an errant lover, the bird being tied to a piece of string and whirled around. The English "wryneck" refers to the same twisting movement and was first recorded in 1585.

A "Twisting" Video Here . . .



Physical characteristics


They are small sparrow-sized birds, appearing greyish overall, with brown and buff mottling. They have a contrasting dark band running down from the back of the head onto the back. Their bills are shorter and less dagger like than in the true woodpeckers, but their chief prey is ants and other insects, which they find in decaying wood or almost bare soil. They re-use woodpecker holes for nesting, rather than making their own holes. The eggs are white, as with many hole nesters. These birds get their English name from their ability to turn their heads almost 180 degrees. When disturbed at the nest, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. This odd behaviour led to their use in witchcraft, hence to put a "jinx" on someone




Breeds in west Palearctic from boreal subarctic through temperate to Mediterranean zones, strongly favouring continental rather than oceanic climates but avoids true steppe, desert, mountains, and wetlands. A lowland bird, but in Switzerland a few breed in favourable valleys above 1000 m. Does not favour dense or tall forest, preferring fringes, open woodlands, clearings, or, especially, parks, orchards, cemeteries, large gardens (even in towns), avenues, riverside trees, and heaths with colonizing pines. Prefers deciduous to coniferous trees, and is less interested in trunks than in branches, often fairly close to ground. Importance of ants in diet leads to frequent occurrence on warm dry ground, either bare or with short herbage; presence of such foraging areas as well as of suitable nest-holes (which it is unable to excavate) is critical for choice of breeding habitat. On migration, occurs in variety of strange habitats with little or no tree cover, even in deserts and low scrub, while wintering birds even found in broad-leaved or thorn scrub, semi-desert, and cultivation.


Other details


Jynx torquilla is a widespread summer visitor to much of Europe, which accounts for less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is large (>580,000 pairs), but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990. Although several populations in eastern Europe were stable during 1990-2000, and the trend of the key population in Russia was unknown, the species continued to decline across most of its European range, and probably underwent a moderate decline (>10%) overall. Consequently, it is provisionally evaluated as Declining.




Principally, and sometimes exclusively, ants, but also other insects. Ants usually taken from nests; may be dug out with bill, or nest broken up. Prey in holes adhere to long, glutinous tongue and are drawn out. Usually pecks at immediately available adults and larvae and uses tongue for more inaccessible prey.




This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population, including an estimated 1,200,000-2,600,000 individuals in Europe (BirdLife International in prep.). Global population trends have not been quantified; there is evidence of a population decline, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]




Wrynecks usually nest in a natural hole in a tree, but they will also make use of holes in walls and nest boxes. They have been known to evict other species of birds already in residence and their noisy activities at the nest site sometimes give away their presence. They lay up to ten pale grey-green - almost white - eggs during May, which are usually incubated by the female bird for 12 to 14 days. The young wrynecks are fed on ants and ant larvae for about three weeks, both parent birds attending to the task. If food supplies are good, the birds may attempt a second brood during July and August.




Mainly migratory. European population winters in very small numbers or irregularly in Mediterranean basin and Middle East; otherwise in Africa south of Sahara. Found there in acacia steppe across northern tropics from Sénégambia and Sierra Leone east to Ethiopia, and south to c. 3°N in Cameroun and Zaïre. Migrates on broad front across Europe and North Africa. Main autumn passage period is mid-August to early October (stragglers into November or even later); from early September onwards south of Sahara. Spring passage begins early March, though minority still in Afrotropics in early May. Vanguard commonly reaches west and central Europe in second half of March (occasionally earlier), but major reoccupation of European breeding range early April to mid-May, averaging later to north and east.


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Taken on September 4, 2016