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Grey Wagtail - BirdForum Opus

(Redirected from Motacilla cinerea)
M. c. cinerea, summer male
Photo © by Gabriel Rasson
Liege, Belgium, March 2004
Motacilla cinerea


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

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.


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.


Aves – Birds, oiseaux Perching Birds, passereaux


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


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.


Hyperactive, with constantly bobbing tail.


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


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


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


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


  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 http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Gill, F and D Donsker (Eds). 2014. IOC World Bird Names (version 4.3). Available at http://www.worldbirdnames.org/.
  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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