Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava



The Yellow Wagtail is a slighter bird than the Pied Wagtail, and the tail is not as long. There is some variance in colour and markings across races, and the sexes differ. Males are yellowish-green on top and vivid yellow below and on their faces. There's a yellow supercilium, the wings are dark brownish with white bars, and the outside tail feathers are white. Females resemble males, but her colours and markings are not as vivid, particularly the yellow. Juveniles are similar to females but their throats are whiter and they have a buffish mark on the cheek. Occasionally the Blue-tailed Wagtail appears in the region; it comes from mainland Europe, and the most obvious difference is the bluish hat and ears.


Prefers lowland marshes, agricultural land and river margins for breeding. During migration it may visit grassy areas, and in winter the Yellow Wagtail spends time by marshes and rice fields.


Has a habit of moving with herds of large animals in order to pick up food left in their wake. It has a wagtail way of moving the tail upwards and then downwards continuously, and of shifting its head forwards and backwards while moving along the ground. May take to the air to in a sudden burst to catch an insect, and usually flies in wide, gentle curves, stopping frequently to perch. When breeding, Yellow Wagtails can be territorial, but they become more sociable towards the end of summer when groups may migrate together; also may form large roosting groups.


Diet includes flies and beetles, particularly those captured near farm animals and their waste.


Female lays 4-6 eggs in April, and both parents incubate for about 14 days. Both parents feed the young, who depart the nest after about 11 days and fledge 5 days after this. Young still remain with the family, and a second brood is sometimes raised.


The time between the end of March and the middle of May sees the arrival of Yellow Wagtails to the region. Some birds then move to France and then Portugal between August and September, and some go to Spain. A few continue on from Spain to North Africa. There are approximately 15 000 territories in Britain, but Yellow Wagtails are not known to breed in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Coastal areas in central England are perhaps the most likely places to receive a visit from these birds. The Thames estuary is a favourite spot, particularly the stretch from Kent to Essex.


Has a high-pitched 'tsreee-ee' call, and has a song that combines the call with a gentle warble.
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