White wagtail (Motacilla alba)

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Pied wagtail taking off from snow covered ground
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White wagtail fact file

White wagtail description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyMotacillidae
GenusMotacilla (1)

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.
Synonyms
Motacilla alboides, Motacilla baicalensis, Motacilla leucopsis, Motacilla lugens, Motacilla ocularis, Motacilla personata, Motacilla subpersonata, Motacilla yarrellii.
French
Bergeronnette grise.
Size
Length: 16.5-19 cm (2)
Wingspan: 25-30 cm (3)
Weight
17-25 g (3)
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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).

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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).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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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).

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White wagtail status

The white wagtail is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (7). It is included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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White wagtail threats

This species is not threatened at present (4).

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White wagtail conservation

Conservation action has not been targeted at this common species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more on British birds see the RSPB website:
http://www.rspb.org.uk

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Subspecies
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.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January2004):
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. RSPB A-Z of Birds: Pied wagtail (February 2004):
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/guide/p/piedwagtail/index.asp
  4. British Trust for Ornithology/ JNCC- breeding birds in the wider countryside: pied wagtail (February 2004):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends/
  5. Lack. P. (1986) The Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A D Poyser Ltd, London.
  6. Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.
  7. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
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Image credit

Pied wagtail taking off from snow covered ground  
Pied wagtail taking off from snow covered ground

© Andrew Parkinson / naturepl.com

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