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Grey Wagtail

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Once common on streams and rivers but now far less so.



Photograph by: 
Pam Parsons

Grey Wagtail: bridge over troubled waters

Post date: Wednesday, 21 October, 2015 - 00:00

There was a time, not that many years ago, when you could stand on any bridge over a Dorset river and you would see a grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), well probably two, a nesting pair. They were quite common birds on streams and rivers where they fed on insects but it seems that now it is quite unusual to see them. Where did they go? Another species whose population level has crashed in the last twenty years or so and yet another indicator that all is not well in our countryside and rivers. 

One of the first things you notice about the grey wagtail is that it is yellow! Many people think that they are, in fact, yellow wagtails, but the yellow wagtail is much more yellow than the grey which is so named because it flanks and front are grey.  The two species are quite different in colouration and can easily be told apart, especially when you consider that they frequent very different habitats.

The grey wagtail has the long tail that bobs up and down (or 'wags') like other members of the family and also shares the short 'quip' alarm sound. 


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Grey Wagtail
Scientific Name Motacilla cinerea
Status Local
Interest Level
Species Family Pipits and Wagtails
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Rivers
Look for The wagging long tail on rocks and branches in streams
Additional Identification Notes
  • It was said every bridge across Dorset's rivers had grey wagtails nearby but that is no longer the case
  • Often confused with yellow wagtails because of their colouring but far less yellow than its cousin
  • The long wagging tail is a characteristic of the family