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Grey Wagtail

From Opus

M. c. cinerea, summer malePhoto © by Gabriel RassonLiege, Belgium, March 2004
M. c. cinerea, summer male
Photo © by Gabriel Rasson
Liege, Belgium, March 2004
Motacilla cinerea


[edit] Identification

M. c. cinerea, first-winterPhoto © by NutcrackerNorthumberland, UK, January 2014
M. c. cinerea, first-winter
Photo © by Nutcracker
Northumberland, UK, January 2014

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
  • Wings black, with white fringes on tertials
  • 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; some (mainly older?) females can develop a mottled black throat
  • Female, winter male and juvenile have a white to whitish-buff throat and underparts whiter, less intense yellow

[edit] Similar species

Often confused with Yellow Wagtail by beginners who expect Grey Wagtails from their name to be entirely grey, not partly yellow; Yellow Wagtail differs in having a shorter tail, and being greenish-yellow above, not grey. Its call is also very different, and habitat differs, mainly being a bird of wet lowland meadows, rarely by upland streams. Citrine Wagtail is more similar with its grey back, but differs in having an all-yellow (male) or yellow and greenish-yellow (female) head.

[edit] Distribution

M. c. cinerea in flightPhoto © by paul2610Elgin, Scotland
M. c. cinerea in flight
Photo © by paul2610
Elgin, Scotland

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

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
M. c. canariensisPhoto © by mikibediLos Abrigos, South Tenerife, October 2017
M. c. canariensis
Photo © by mikibedi
Los Abrigos, South Tenerife, October 2017

Three to six subspecies are accepted. 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:

  • 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:

The subspecies differ only slightly, with a small clinal decrease in tail length from west to east. The subspecies on the Atlantic island groups are slightly darker grey above, and more saturated yellow below[3].

[edit] Habitat

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 tree canopies 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. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. 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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