The Pied Wagtail (Motacilla Alba Yarrellii) is a pretty bird which always seems to be in motion. If pied wagtails are not standing still furiously wagging their tails, they are dashing about everywhere in search of food. In the winter months, these birds gather at night to roost in flocks of up to 4000 individuals so that they can keep warm. In the countryside, they roost in reeds beds where they are hidden from predators. In urban areas, they will choose trees close to human activity to take advantage of the heat lost from nearby buildings.
These small, black and white birds are 18cm in length and are notable for constantly wagging their tails. The reason for the constant wagging has never been established. However, a number of theories have been proposed. It could be that the birds wag their tails to flush out insect prey, but it is unlikely that this is the sole purpose of the wagging. The behaviour could be an indicator of social status or a signal to potential predators that the birds are alert.
What is the pied wagtail’s population and distribution?
Pied Wagtails are found across the UK but leave some highland areas of Scotland in winter. They are often seen near water but can be found in diverse habitats including town centres. The majority of Pied Wagtails are resident in the UK throughout the year. Some birds from the north migrate to warmer climes in the winter. There has been a small decline in the number of pied wagtails in the UK but these birds are not currently of conservation concern.
What do pied wagtails eat?
Pied Wagtails are insectivores and feed on both ground dwelling and aerial species. The birds are adept at finding easy pickings including the insects trapped in car radiator grills. When insects are scarce, these birds will visit gardens to feed on seeds and they appear to have developed a likely for bread and cake.
Where do pied wagtails nest?
Nests are most commonly built in holes but pied wagtails will nest in tree hollows, log piles, open-fronted nest boxes and even abandoned machinery. The cup-shaped nests are constructed from grass and mosses. Clutches feature 3-7 eggs which are incubated by both parents for 12-14 days. Chicks fledge after 13-16 days.
Did you know?
The Pied Wagtail is almost exclusively a British bird. Some pied wagtails also nest on the adjoining coasts of France and Holland. Elsewhere, you will see White Wagtails.