Tuesday 21 May
White wagtail (Motacilla alba)
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White wagtail fact file
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White wagtail description
The white wagtail (Motacilla alba) is instantly recognisable thanks to its distinctive black and white plumage, loud tsli-vitt call, and characteristic habit of constantly bobbing the tail, hence the common name ‘wagtail’ (5) (2). The pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) is a subspecies that occurs in Britain. It differs from subspecies alba, which occurs on the continent and is known as the white wagtail, in that during the breeding season, males develop black upperparts and females have sooty dark grey upperparts (2).
- Also known as
- pied wagtail.
- Motacilla alboides, Motacilla baicalensis, Motacilla leucopsis, Motacilla lugens, Motacilla ocularis, Motacilla personata, Motacilla subpersonata, Motacilla yarrellii.
- Bergeronnette grise. Top
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January2004):
- Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
RSPB A-Z of Birds: Pied wagtail (February 2004):
British Trust for Ornithology/ JNCC- breeding birds in the wider countryside: pied wagtail (February 2004):
- Lack. P. (1986) The Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A D Poyser Ltd, London.
- Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.
IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
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White wagtail biology
Pied wagtails are often seen running across lawns, car parks and other flat areas in pursuit of insects (6). In winter they may also feed on seeds and often gather on rubbish dumps to feed (5). These birds flock together to roost at warm sites such as reed beds and sewage farms. Many birds also feed in flocks in the winter, although some males defend territories (5).
In summer, pied wagtails defend breeding territories (6); the nest is built beneath roof tiles, in walls, amongst ivy, or beneath stones (2) and five or six eggs are produced. These are incubated for 11-16 days and the young will have fledged by 16 days of age (3).Top
White wagtail range
Common and widespread throughout most of Britain, but absent from high ground in winter (5). It is most common in the south of Britain, where birds tend to be sedentary. Northern pied wagtails tend to move southwards for the winter, augmenting the southern populations or travelling to western parts of France, Spain and Portugal (5). The paler continental subspecies, the white wagtail sometimes visits Britain as a passage migrant and occasionally breeds in Shetland (6).Top
White wagtail habitat
This bird tends to prefer habitats close to water, such as river banks and lake edges. However it can also be seen in farmland, moorland, parks and gardens (3), as well as around sewage farms, reservoirs and in towns (5).Top
White wagtail statusTop
White wagtail threats
This species is not threatened at present (4).Top
White wagtail conservation
Conservation action has not been targeted at this common species.Top
Find out more
For more on British birds see the RSPB website:
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