1. Once a widespread breeding bird in England, this is now a lost breeding species, though still occurring regularly on migration each year.
2. The decline started as long ago as the mid 19th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s that breeding finally stopped in England (though there have been a few isolated records since).
3. At one time in the late 20th century it seemed likely that a small breeding population would become established around Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands, but this has not happened.
4. Despite being lost from the British Isles, it remains a common breeding bird over much of Europe, especially in Scandinavia and eastern countries from Estonia to Romania and Bulgaria.
5. European-breeding wrynecks winter in Africa. They return to their breeding grounds at the same time as the cuckoo, giving the bird its old country name of the cuckoo’s mate or the cuckoo’s messenger.
6. Other old names include twister, writhe neck and snake bird. These all refer to the bird’s ability to turn its head and neck through almost 360deg, and the fact that when startled it can hiss like a snake.
7. The bird’s Latin name, Jynx torquilla, is from the ancient Greek name for the bird, iunx, while torquilla comes from Latin and indicates the bird’s twisting head movements.
8. With its beautifully cryptic plumage, coupled to its small size, the wryneck is easy to overlook. However, in spring the male’s constantly repeated plaintive call draws attention to its presence.
9. Wrynecks are adaptable when it comes to their habitat, but they particularly like old orchards, parks, cemeteries, large gardens and woodland clearings.
10. Though loud and noisy when they first arrive back on the breeding grounds, the calling stops as soon as the first eggs are laid.
11. Appearances can be deceptive: this is a bird most closely related to the woodpeckers.
12. Like the woodpeckers, it is a hole-nesting species, and will frequently take over nest holes already in use by other birds.
13. Wrynecks will readily adopt suitably placed nest boxes.
14. No nest lining is provided for the clutch of 7-10 white eggs. They take 12-14 days to hatch.
15. The young birds will leave the nest from 18-22 days after hatching. Many pairs attempt to rear a second brood.
16. Ants are the wryneck’s favourite food: it has a long, sticky tongue that helps in their capture.
17. Autumn migration starts in mid August and continues through to mid-October.
18. Though spring migrants are regular in England, most records are in the autumn. The best place to find one is on the east coast, but birds occasionally occur in gardens far from the coast, stopping to feed for a couple of days before moving on.
19. The wryneck has a huge breeding range that extends through Asia and all the way east to Japan.
20. In Africa, wintering wrynecks are rarely encountered: most winter from Senegambia to Sudan and Ethiopia, rarely farther south.
21. Africa does have its own species, the rufous-breasted wryneck. It has a patchy and localised distribution from Ethiopia and Nigeria in the north to Natal in South Africa. There are no other wryneck species.