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Length 16.5â€“18 cm (6-7 in), weight 17-25 g
Nominate subspecies in spring plumage is grey above with two white wingbars and white edgings to several feather tracts and white below (including relatively clean flanks), it has a white face, black cap and black throat; male has sharp demarkation of cap versus mantle, female diffuse.
A summer visitor to the north and east of its range, resident elsewhere. Widespread throughout southern Europe and around the Mediterranean in winter with some migrants wintering in tropical Africa and Asia.
Eleven subspecies are accepted Clements, and nine by IOC:
M. a. yarrellii - Pied Wagtail
Ireland, Britain and locally adjacent coastal western Europe; mainly resident, some wintering south to Spain. Differs from M. a. alba in having black rather than grey back and dark dusky flanks; female have greyer back, but still clearly darker than M. a. alba; other plumages also similar to M. a. alba but with darker tones especially on back, flanks and rump. Sometimes split as a separate species.
M. a. alba - White Wagtail
Southeast Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Scandinavia, and throughout continental Europe east to the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus; summer visitor in northern areas, resident further south; a common passage migrant and rare breeder in Britain, and vagrant in eastern USA. IOC includes M. a. dukhunensis and M. a. persica in M. a. alba as synonyms.
Southern Russia and the Caucasus. Paler back than M. a. alba and broader white markings on greater coverts, but intergrades extensively.
M. a. subpersonata - Moroccan White Wagtail
Western Morocco; resident; vagrant in France. Head and breast black with white forehead, and side of head a complex pattern of black and white and white spot on the sides of neck.
M. a. personata - Masked Wagtail
Northern Iran to SW Siberia, W Mongolia, NW China and the western Himalaya; vagrant in Germany, and (2016) Wales. Head and breast black with white forehead and mask around eye much smaller than at M. a. alba, and extensive white on greater coverts.
M. a. baicalensis
South-central Siberia to northeast China. Similar to M. a. alba but males with extensive white on wing coverts forming a large white wing panel.
M. a. ocularis
Northern Siberia to northwest Alaska; winters southeast Asia; vagrant on the west coast of North America south to Baja California. Similar to M. a. alba but with males extensive white on wing coverts forming a large white wing panel; differs from M. a. baicalensis in fine black line through eye.
M. a. lugens - Black-backed Wagtail
Coastal southeast Siberia and islands, northern Korea and northern and central Japan; vagrant on the west coast of North America. Black above with white wings. Formerly sometimes treated as full species.
M. a. leucopsis - Amur Wagtail
Inland southeast Siberia, central and eastern China, southern Korea and southwest Japan. When M. a. lugens treated as a species, included in it as a subspecies; also occasionally considered a separate species.
M. a. alboides - Himalayan Wagtail
Central and eastern Himalaya to southern China, northern Indochina and northern Myanmar. When M. a. lugens treated as a species, included in it as a subspecies; also occasionally considered a separate species.
Open areas with some vegetation from Arctic regions and high mountains to semi-deserts and sea-coasts. Usually beside freshwater including ditches, streams, rivers and from pools up to the largest lakes and reservoirs. Also occurs away from water on farmland, frequently in farmyards and in town parks and gardens. Often forms large roosts in winter.
Very active, running around on open ground to pick up insects; usually fairly noisy, calling frequently. Like all wagtails, wags tail up and down almost constantly. Sings from a conspicuous perch, such as roof or wall tops.
The nest is a grass cup in hole or crevice and can be found in a bank, cliff, woodpile or shed. The clutch consists of 5 or 6 whitish eggs speckled with grey. They are incubated for about 2 weeks and fledge a further 2 weeks later. There may be 2 or 3 broods in the season which runs from March to September.