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Grey Wagtail

From Opus

Summer malePhoto by Gabriel RassonLiege, Belgium, March 2004
Summer male
Photo by Gabriel Rasson
Liege, Belgium, March 2004
Motacilla cinerea


[edit] Identification

Length 17-20 cm (6¾-7¾ in), weight 14-22 g

  • A long-tailed wagtail, blue-grey above, mainly yellow below
  • Brightest yellow on the under-tail coverts
  • White supercilium and moustachial streak
  • Tail black with white edges, wagged up-and-down nearly constantly
  • Black bill (base of bill paler in young birds), dark pink legs
  • Male has black throat in spring and summer; female, winter male and juvenile have a whitish-buff throat, though some (mainly older?) females can develop a mottled black throat

[edit] Distribution

First-winterPhoto by NutcrackerNorthumberland, UK, January 2014
Photo by Nutcracker
Northumberland, UK, January 2014

Breeds from Europe, northwest Africa, and most of Asia east to Kamchatka, though absent from northeast Europe and northwest Asia between Sweden (where a recent colonist) and the Urals. In western Europe mainly sedentary, elsewhere migratory, wintering south-west to Gambia, south to Ethiopia, India and south-east to New Guinea.

[edit] Taxonomy

[edit] Subspecies

Three to six subspecies recognized. Clements[1] and IOC[2] accept only three:

  • M. c. cinerea:
  • M. c. patriciae:
  • Azores (Furnas and São Miguel)
  • M. c. schmitzi:

Other authorities, including HBW[3], split three additional subspecies from the nominate:

Photo by paul2610Elgin, Scotland
Photo by paul2610
Elgin, Scotland
  • M. c. melanope:
  • Breeds northern Asia from the Ural Mountains east to the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, south to the north-west, north and eastern Mongolia and eastern China; also in mountains from Tien Shan south to eastern Afghanistan and east along the Himalayas; winters north-eastern Africa and south-eastern Asia
  • M. c. robusta:
  • M. c. canariensis:

[edit] Habitat

M. c. melanopePhoto by Alok TewariDistrict of Nainital, Alt. 1500 m, Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, April 2016
M. c. melanope
Photo by Alok Tewari
District of Nainital, Alt. 1500 m, Uttarakhand Himalayas, India, April 2016

Breeds by fast-flowing streams in rocky upland areas; more closely tied to running water than other wagtails. In winter, a little more widespread away from water, including in city centres.

[edit] Behaviour

Hyperactive, with constantly bobbing tail.

[edit] Flight

Undulating flight. Often hovers when feeding in the tree canopy and over water.

[edit] Diet

Aquatic and waterside invertebrates, including insects (often caught in flycatching sallies), small freshwater shrimps, and also occasionally small fish fry.

[edit] Breeding

The nest is built in rock crevices, often next to (or even behind) a waterfall.

[edit] Vocalisation

Call: a sharp tzt-tzt, much more incisive and harder than White Wagtail.

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[edit] References

  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from
  2. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2014. IOC World Bird Names (version 4.3). Available at
  3. Del Hoyo, J, A Elliot, and D Christie, eds. 2004. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-8487334696

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