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).
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).
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).
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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