Another fantastic bird that has featured on #BeakOfTheWeek – the Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla)! It is one of only two species in the genus Jynx, along with the red-throated wryneck (J. ruficollis), both of which belong to the woodpecker family (Picidae). Like other woodpeckers, it has the characteristic large head and long tongue, but with a few slight differences. Most woodpeckers have a powerful bill, whereas the wrynecks have a shorter, more slender bill. This is suited to their feeding behaviour as they don’t use their bills to make holes in trees, but instead find and catch insects in crevices using their sticky tongue. They have an unusual threat display in which they twist their head in a snake-like manner while hissing. Consequently they have long been associated with ancient spells and witchcraft, and are responsible for the origin of the word “jinx” (cf. Jynx). The meaning of the species name torquilla also relates to this behaviour, as it comes from the Latin verb “torqueo”, meaning “to twist”.
Despite belonging to the woodpecker family, the species can seem more characteristic of the thrush family. It prefers foraging on the ground, and can be seen sitting on branches more often than clinging to tree trunks. This is most likely because it lacks the stiff tail feathers that most woodpeckers have which help brace themselves against upright trunks. Individuals are around 16–17 cm long and weigh 30–50 g. Their plumage pattern and colouring is reminiscent of nightjars (Caprimulgidae). Both males and females are mottled brown, buff, and grey on their upper body, and barred dark brown and buff on their underside, giving them a slight ‘dirty’ appearance. This colouring acts as very effective camouflage, making them very difficult to spot. Their song is a series of 8–15 loud “kwia” notes in quick succession, sounding quite similar to the lesser spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor) but slightly more nasal in sound. Their alarm calls can either be shrill hissing, or a series of loud ‘tak’ sounds in close succession, sounding almost like clucking.
Here’s an example of their song:
The Eurasian wryneck is not a particularly common sight in the UK, being seen mostly on the Eastern and Southern coasts during autumn migration time, and less commonly in spring. It is estimated that around 280 birds visit the UK when migrating. However, it is a very widespread visitor to much of Europe and Asia in breeding season during the summer months, and is present in both Asia and Africa outside of the breeding period. Their preferred habitat consists of open country with orchards, woodland, fields, scrubland, and pasture. They primarily feed on ants, finding nests in holes and crevices using their slender bills and long tongues. They also feed on beetles and their larvae, aphids, flies, and spiders.
As Eurasian wrynecks cannot excavate their own tree hole, they often use the old nest sites of other woodpeckers, sometimes even removing the nest and brood of another individual. When meeting, a mating pair will exhibit head swinging and feather ruffling, which acts as a courtship display. The species is generally monogamous, staying faithful to one mate. However, occasional polygyny occurs, meaning some males mate and raise offspring with more than one female. A clutch of 7–12 eggs is laid in May–June, and sometimes a second clutch is laid in June. Incubation of the eggs lasts around 11–12 days, and is shared between the male and the female equally, as is the feeding of the young. The nestlings fledge at 20–22 days, and become fully independent 1–2 weeks later.
The species has “Red Status” in the UK due to severe declines between 1800 and 1995 without substantial recovery. However, on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it is of “Least Concern“. This means that the species isn’t globally threatened. Let’s hope it stays that way!
BirdLife International. 2015. Species factsheet: Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla. Accessed 18/10/2015.
RSPB. 2015. Wryneck. Accessed 18/10/2015.
Winkler, H., Christie, D.A. & Kirwan, G.M. 2015. Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) 2015. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/56121 on 21/10/2015.
BirdLife International. 2012. Jynx torquilla. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed 18/10/2015.
Wink, M., Becker, D., Tolkmitt, D., Knigge, V., Sauer-Gürth, H. & Staudter, H. 2011. Mating system, paternity and sex allocation in Eurasian Wrynecks (Jynx torquilla). Journal of Ornithology. 152: 983–989.
Images (from top to bottom):
Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) taken by Robert Nash is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
Eurasian wryneck (Jynx torquilla) taken by Åsa Berndtsson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Patrik Åberg, XC26770. Licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/26770.