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A grey Wagtail facing away from us shows its grey upper, black wing and long tail. The bright yellow of its rump contrasts this

Grey Wagtail

Motacilla Cinerea

Key Facts

  • Length: 18-19cm
  • Wingspan: 26cm
  • Weight: 18g
  • Average lifespan: 3 years

Grey wagtails are common birds of fast-flowing rivers; their greatest densities are in the hills of England, Scotland and Wales. In winter they move to lowland areas and can be spotted in farmyards and even in towns. Grey wagtails eat insects like ants and midges which they find beside rivers and snails and tadpoles in shallow water. They nest near the water in hollows and crevices lined with moss and twigs.

How to Identify

Grey wagtails have a very long, black and white tail with a yellow rump and yellow belly. They are grey above with black wings. Males have a grey face with a black throat bib and a white ‘moustache’. They can be distinguished from the similar yellow wagtail by the black bib (in males) and the grey back.

Where to find

Widespread, although least common in the lowlands of East Anglia and south-east England.

How People Can Help

Grey wagtails are badly affected by harsh winters and have shown a recent decline in number. As climate change takes hold it is likely that extreme weather events become more common, affecting wagtails and other species. The Wildlife Trusts are working with researchers, scientists and other conservationists to monitor changes in our wildlife in order to be able to react to the adverse effects of climate change. You can help: volunteer for your local Trust and you’ll be able to monitor populations and survey habitats, adding to a growing bank of data on the effects of climate change.

Did you know?

Once much more restricted to the fast-flowing rivers of the uplands, the grey wagtail has been able to expand its range due to improving water quality in many of our rivers in recent decades. It can now be found nesting in most parts of the country.

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