Bird Families

Bird wagtail


Wagtails (Motacilla) are representatives of the genus of songbirds belonging to the family of wagtails and the order Passeriformes. The astonishing, singing feathered creature is a symbol of Latvia, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune in many countries.

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Description of wagtail

Motacilla has relatively few noticeable differences from any other members of the wagtail family.... The tail is long and narrow, straight cut, with two middle feathers that are slightly longer than the side feathers. The very first flight feathers are noticeably shorter than the second and third feathers. The presence of a weakly curved claw on the back toe is characteristic.


Representatives of the genus owe their name to the peculiarities of tail movements. The characteristics of the external description depend on the main species characteristics of the wagtail:

  • Piebald wagtail - a bird with a body length of 19.0-20.5 cm, with a wing length of 8.4-10.2 cm and a tail length of no more than 8.3-9.3 cm.The upper body is predominantly black, and the throat and chin are white,
  • White wagtail - a bird with an elongated tail and a body length of 16-19 cm. Gray color predominates on the upper part of the body, and white feathers on the lower part. The throat and cap are black,
  • Mountain wagtail - the owner of a medium-sized body and a long tail. The bird's appearance is similar to the description of the yellow wagtail, and the main difference is the presence of white "sides", clearly contrasting with the bright yellow chest and undertail.
  • Yellow-headed wagtail - a slender appearance bird with a maximum body length of no more than 15-17 cm with a wingspan of 24-28 cm. In all its color, in general, it resembles a yellow wagtail.

The smallest representatives of the genus are Yellow Wagtails, or Pliski, whose body length is no more than 15-16 cm and weighs about 16-17 g.

Character and lifestyle

Each of the adults has its own territory, within which it hunts for prey. If there is no food within the site, then the bird goes in search of a new place, and having appeared there, it notifies its arrival with a loud cry. If the owner of the territory does not respond to this cry, then the bird starts hunting.

Aggressiveness is completely unusual for wagtails by nature, but when protecting the borders of its territory, such a bird is quite capable of attacking even its own reflection, which often becomes the cause of the bird's death. Representatives of the genus settle in small flocks in terms of the number of individuals, and when a predator appears on the territory of a predator, all birds fearlessly rush at it to protect the borders of their territory.

It is interesting! The bird is informed about the timing of its flight to the south by hormones produced by the bird's pituitary gland, and the length of daylight hours triggers the mechanism of the bird's migratory behavior.

Representatives of the genus arrive with the onset of early spring together with numerous lapwings. During this period, a sufficient number of mosquitoes still do not appear, and other insects are practically invisible, therefore wagtails try to stay close to rivers, where water appears on the coastal areas and broken pieces of ice. It is in such places that various aquatic animals "dry up".

How many wagtails live

The average life expectancy of representatives of the genus in nature established by observations is about ten years, but with proper maintenance in captivity, such birds often live a couple of years more.

Sexual dimorphism

A markedly pronounced dimorphism is noted immediately in some species... For example, males of the species Black-headed Wagtail during the mating season have a velvet-black top of the head, bridle and top of the neck, and sometimes the front part of the back. Young bird after molting in autumn is similar in appearance to females. The coloration of the male ibex in the breeding season is represented mainly by gray tones on the upper part of the whole body, and has a yellow color on the lower part, and the neck is very contrasting, black.

Wagtail species

Known species of representatives of the genus Wagtail:

  • M. feldegg, or Black-headed Wagtail,
  • M. aguimp Dumont, or piebald wagtail,
  • M. alba Linnaeus, or White Wagtail,
  • M. capensis Linnaeus, or Cape Wagtail,
  • M. cinerea Tunstall, or Mountain Wagtail with subspecies M.c. cinerea Tunstall, M.c. melanope Pallas, M.c. robusta, M.c. patriciae Vaurie, M.c. schmitzi Tschusi and M.c. canariensis,
  • M. citreola Pallas, or Yellow-headed Wagtail with subspecies Motacilla citreola citreola and Motacilla citreola qassatrix,
  • M. clara Sharpe, or Long-tailed wagtail,
  • M. flava Linnaeus, or Yellow Wagtail with subspecies M.f. flava, M.f. flavissima, M.f. thunbergi, M.f. iberiae, M.f. cinereocapilla, M.f. pygmaea, M.f. feldegg, M.f. lutea, M.f. beema, M.f. melanogrisea, M.f. plexa, M.f. tschutschensis, M.f. angarensis, M.f. leucocephala, M.f. taivana, M.f. macronyx and M.f. simillima,
  • M. flaviventris Hartlaub, or Madagascar Wagtail,
  • M. grandis Sharpe, or Japanese wagtail,
  • M. lugens Gloger, or Kamchatka wagtail,
  • M. madaraspatensis J. F. Gmelin, or White-browed wagtail.

In total, there are about fifteen species of wagtails that live in Europe, Asia and Africa. In the CIS, there are five species - white, yellow-backed and yellow, as well as yellow-headed and mountain wagtails. For residents of the middle zone of our country, representatives of the species White Wagtail are more familiar.

Habitat, habitats

On the territory of Europe, most of the species of wagtails is found, but the Yellow Wagtail is sometimes distinguished into a special genus (Budytes). The numerous black-headed wagtail is an inhabitant of wet meadows and lake shores overgrown with sparse reeds or high grass stands with sparse bushes. A resident bird The piebald wagtail often settles near human habitation, only in sub-Saharan African countries. The yellow wagtail, or pliska, inhabiting the vast territories of Asia and Europe, Alaska and Africa, is widespread in almost the entire Palaearctic belt.

White wagtails nest mainly in Europe and Asia, as well as in North Africa, but representatives of the species may well be found in Alaska as well. The mountain wagtail is a typical inhabitant of the whole of Eurasia, and a significant part of the population regularly hibernates only in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Birds of this species try to adhere to near-water biotopes, giving preference to the banks of streams and rivers, damp meadows and swamps.

It is interesting! It is believed that the homeland of wagtails is the territory of Mongolia and Eastern Siberia, and only much later such songbirds were able to settle throughout Europe and appeared in North Africa.

In summer, the yellow-headed wagtail nests in rather wet meadows in Siberia and in the tundra, but with the onset of winter, the bird migrates to the territory of South Asia. The Long-tailed Wagtail, or Mountain Wagtail, is characterized by a wide range in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola and Botswana, Burundi and Cameroon. All representatives of the species inhabit the shores of forest stormy streams within the subtropics or tropical dry forest zones, and are also found in the humid subtropics or tropics of mountain forests.

Wagtail diet

Absolutely all representatives belonging to the Wagtail family feed exclusively on insects, while birds are able to catch them even during flight. The birds feed very unusual, and the caught butterflies are first torn off their wings one by one, after which the prey is quickly eaten... Often for hunting, wagtails choose the shores of reservoirs, where larvae of small mollusks or caddisflies can become their prey.

The feeding of wagtails is mainly represented by small dipterans, including mosquitoes and flies, which are easily swallowed by birds. In addition, representatives of the genus quite willingly eat all kinds of bugs and caddis flies. Sometimes such medium-sized birds can afford to feast on small berries or plant seeds.

It is interesting! Small-sized birds are of great benefit - wagtails very willingly feed near grazing areas of domestic or wild ungulates and eat horseflies, as well as many other blood-sucking and annoying insects right from their backs.

Pliski's diet includes various small invertebrates such as spiders and bugs, stoneflies and coleoptera, flies and wasps, caterpillars and butterflies, mosquitoes and ants. Insectivorous birds usually search for their prey only on the ground, moving very quickly and easily among the grass.

Reproduction and offspring

With the onset of spring, the female and male begin to actively collect small twigs, moss, roots and shoots, which are used by birds in the construction of a cone-shaped nest. The main condition for nesting of an adult wagtail is the presence of water nearby.

The female begins to lay eggs from the first decade of May, and in the clutch there are most often from four to seven eggs, of which the chicks hatch after about a couple of weeks, and the female quickly throws out the entire shell from the nest.

From May to July, the wagtail manages to make two clutches. Newborn chicks, as a rule, have gray, yellow or white-black plumage.

It is interesting! Wagtails nest a couple of times during the summer, using for these purposes the cracks in the walls, the rafter system under the bridges, soil depressions, hollows and the root space of vegetation, and the twisted nest is quite loose and is lined with hair or shreds of wool from the inside.

Both parents take care of feeding their chicks, who in turn go to catch insects. After a couple of weeks, the chicks are already fledging and quickly become on the wing. In late June and early July, together with their parents, the grown chicks begin to learn to fly, and with the onset of autumn, bird flocks rush to the south.

Natural enemies

The most common enemies of the wagtail are domestic and wild cats, weasels and martens, as well as crows and cuckoos, many birds of prey... When enemies appear, the wagtails do not fly away, but, on the contrary, begin to scream very loudly. Sometimes this behavior is quite enough to drive enemies away from the nest or flock.

Population and status of the species

Most of the species do not belong to the category of endangered or vulnerable, and the population of some representatives of the genus is significantly decreasing. On the territory of the Moscow region, the meadow species is quite widespread and common. According to their status, the representatives of the species belong to the third category - the vulnerable birds of Moscow.