More colourful than you might expect, the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinereal) is a beautiful bird but sadly a comparatively rare one. These birds boast slate grey upper parts together with vibrant lemon-yellow breasts and under-tails. Males have black throat bibs. The tails of these birds are longer than those of pied and yellow wagtails. Grey wagtails can be confused with yellow wagtails which are brighter in colour and which have darker legs.
Grey wagtails are 18-19cm in length and have wingspans of 25-27cm. They spend the summer months living by fast flowing rivers in upland areas but move to lowland locations in the winter. Like other wagtails, they frequently wag their tails and can be seen flying low with many undulations.
What is the grey wagtail’s population and distribution?
Grey wagtails are found across most of the UK, but not in the northern and western isles of Scotland. There are thought to be just 38,000 pairs in the UK and so the grey wagtail is red listed as a species of serious conservation concern.
What do grey wagtails eat?
Grey wagtails feed almost exclusively on aquatic insects and invertebrates including flies, beetles, crustacea and molluscs. There are no foods which will attract grey wagtails to gardens but they have been known to visit gardens with ponds.
Where do grey wagtails nest?
These birds build their nests close to shallow, fast flowing rivers and usually in hollows and crannies amongst the stones and rocks. They occasionally choose to locate their nests in manmade structures. However, with rickety old bridges being replaced by new and safer bridges, this type of nesting site is becoming increasingly scarce. The nests are constructed from twigs and then lined with moss and hair. The female lays 3-6 eggs which are incubated for 12 days. The chicks fledge after 12-13 days.
The nesting sites of these birds are often threatened by flooding following periods of heavy rain. They may also be disturbed by human visitors to riverbanks.
Did you know?
Grey wagtails have been able to expand their range in the UK over recent years due to the improved water quality of rivers.