Grey Wagtail

Motacilla cinerea



The vivid yellow tail is very long and usually twitching. Plumage varies slightly by season and there are some differences between the sexes. In summer, the male is a bright yellow underneath, bluish grey on top, he has a black throat and there's a white strip above the eye. He has a dark bill, reddish legs and white feathers on the outside of his tail. The summer female is similar, but the black throat is usually greyish-white, and the underparts are more dull. In winter the strip above the male's eye is less distinct, and the throat is whitish in both the male and female. Juveniles are similar to adult females in winter.


Summer territories include quickly moving water with trees and rocks nearby, preferably upland. Winter territories are lower after departure from summer grounds; may include agricultural lands, areas of human populations (as long as there is water), and coastal territories.


Associates in pairs, or is often solitary. Flight is bouncy as it moves from rock to rock in bodies of water. Has a display of leaping from heights and plummeting down with wings flapping.


Diet includes midges, stoneflies, mayflies, beetles, ants, spiders, small water snails, freshwater shrimps and tadpoles.


Female lays 4-6 eggs, usually in April or May, and both parents incubate for 11-14 days. At 13-15 days old, the young fledge but rely on adults for another 2 weeks. May be two broods a season.


Majority of birds found in the region are resident and their main movement is switching from upland summer territories to lower areas in winter. Some northern European breeding birds may visit the region during winter. More than 38 000 pairs breed in the UK and numbers exceed 10 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Grey Wagtails are distributed most generously in the region's west, particularly in fast-flowing water during the nesting season.


Has a piercing 'chsee-sit' call and a quavering song heard from a perch or when flying.
Back to Bird Index