Motacilla cinerea - Grey Wagtail

Phylum: Chordata - Class: Aves - Order: Passeriformes - Family: Motacillidae

Grey Wagtail

These lovely birds are very common in Britain and are less shy than many other birds of the riverside. With an overall length of approximately 19cm and a typical wingspan of 26cm, the splash of yellow and the habbit of wagging their tails up and down when at rest makes Grey Wagtails easy to spot. (The genus name Motacilla comes from the Latic verb motare, meaning to move, and refers to the fidgety tails of birds in the wagtail group.)

Grey Wagtails feed on insects, most of which they collect from emergent vegetation and stones beside the stream. They usually make steam-side nests among tree roots or in crevices in rock walls and revetments. Breeding occurs between April and July, with three to six eggs in the first clutch and fewer in any later broods.

Grey Wagtail with young in riverside nest

Grey Wagtails and yellow wagtails are often confused; the grey wagtail is resident here all the year round and has a grey head, grey-blue back and very long tail. The Yellow Wagtail, with which it is sometimes confused, is a summer visitor; it is somewhat smaller, has an olive back and a shorter tail and the male in particular has more of a yellow face.

Grey Wagtail beside a stream


This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Will Bown, Melvin Grey and Ray Tipper.

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