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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.
In winter, the black in the throat area is reduced to a relatively narrow band, and the contrast on the upperside is reduced to the extent that the female may completely lack the black cap.
Juvenile plumage can be extremely weakly marked, but soon becomes first winter, which is similar to a less contrasting winter female; however, the head especially can look yellowish.
A thread discussing the separation of White and Pied Wagtails.
Variation among subspecies is large; for descriptive notes on other subspecies see the taxonomy section.
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.
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.
M. a. dukhunensis
Southern Russia and the Caucasus. Paler back than M. a. alba and broader white markings on greater coverts, but intergrades extensively.
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 differs from it and M. a. baicalensis in fine black line through eye.
Coastal southeast Siberia and islands, northern Korea and northern and central Japan; vagrant on the west coast of North America. Black above with extensive white on wing coverts and flight feathers forming a large white wing panel. Black line through eye similar to M. a. ocularis. Separated as a distinct species by the American Ornithologists' Union from 1982 until 2005, when lumped back into M. alba. Sometimes still 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.
Adriaens, P., Bosman D. & Elst, J. (2010). White Wagtail and Pied Wagtail: a new look. Dutch Birding 32: 229-250.
AlstrÃ¶m, P. and K. Mild. 2003. Pipits and wagtails. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Badyaev, A. V., D. D. Gibson, B. Kessel, P. Pyle, and M. A. Patten (2017). White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), version 3.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. #Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. Retrieved from Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/whiwag
Morlan, J. (1981). Status and identification of forms of White Wagtails in western North America. Continental Birdlife no. 2:37-50.
Tyler, S. (2018). White Wagtail (Motacilla alba). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/57821 on 9 September 2018).