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Grey Wagtail

Male Grey Wagtail
Male: Small blue-grey and yellow bird with a wagging long tail.
Female Grey Wagtail
Female: Like the male, but duller.

The Grey Wagtail has the longest tail of the wagtails and like the others its tail is wagged continually. The long tail improves its agility while flying in pursuit of insects.

The blue-grey upperparts contrast with black wings, bright yellow breast and belly and yellow-green rump. The adults have a prominent white supercilium (eyebrow), moustache and outer tail feathers. The legs are pink-brown and the bill is grey-black.

In the winter, the male's yellow breast becomes paler and the black throat less distinct. This winter plumage is very similar to the female's appearance all year round.

Juveniles are similar to the female but the lower bill and throat are pink-buff coloured and they lack the black throat.

The potentially confusing Yellow Wagtail does not have blue-grey upper parts and is a summer visitor only.

Scientific Name Motacilla cinerea
Length 18-20 cm  (7-8")
Wing Span 25-27 cm  (10-11")
Weight 15-23 g  (½-¾ oz)
Breeding Pairs 34000
Present All Year
Status Amber

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The Grey Wagtail's call is similar to the Pied Wagtails, but higher pitched and shorter, and sounds more like "chic".

The rarely heard song is a delightful, melodious trilling given either in flight or from a perch.


© Jean Roché,

© Jean Roché,


Their diet comprises insects, such as midges and ants, which they find alongside rivers, etc. They will also take water snails and tadpoles from shallow water.


Grey Wagtails usually nest near shallow, fast-flowing streams, waterfalls, mill-races, lakes, canals, etc. They build their nest in hollows or crevices out of twigs, grass, and moss. 

The Grey Wagtail's eggs are smooth, glossy and creamy-coloured with grey-buff spots. The female incubates the eggs by herself. After the young hatch, they are fed by both parents.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April 1-2 3-7 11-14 11-13


The Grey Wagtail is not a migrant in the normal sense but those that breed in upland areas migrate to eastern lowland areas for the winter (this is called altitudinal migration). Consequently, they often turn up in cities and even gardens, but usually never too far from water.

Northern European birds, however, do migrate, along with some British birds, to southern Europe and North Africa.


The red alert exists because of a serious decline since the 1970s and 80s.