BIRD OF THE MONTH: NOVEMBER 2006 – PIED WAGTAIL

Posted by NH Admin on Thursday, 9th November 2006, 00:00


Pied wagtail    Motacilla alba yarrellii

 

Photo credit: Sannse/GFDL

 

 

Size

 

Length = 16.5-19 cm   Wingspan = 25-30cm

 

 

Physical description

 

Male: in summer, jet-black upperparts, white forehead, jet-black bib (covering the throat and breast) and cap, with no ‘join’ between them, white belly, white wing bars; in winter, the throat is white.

Black eye, dark beak, and long, black legs.

Tail is long and narrow, black on top and white underneath, and is wagged constantly, hence the name. Flight is heavily undulating, consisting of a few flaps followed by a descending glide.

 

Female: similar to male, but with slate-grey back.

 

The pied wagtail is a subspecies of the white wagtail (Motacilla alba) which breeds in continental Europe. The male of this nominate race can be distinguished by its grey back and rump, and white join between its bib and cap.

 

 

Voice

 

Call: a sharp ‘tschizzuck’ or ‘chissick’. Often calls when flying.

 

Song: its normal song consists of a few twittering notes, then a pause, followed by more notes and pauses. Its other song is a long, fast series of notes, often given when the bird is excited.

 

 

Diet

 

Flies and other insects.

 

 

Lifespan

 

Up to 5 years.

 

 

Habitat

 

Breeding: pied wagtails favour building their nests near water e.g. shallow streams, river banks or lake edges with a shore of stones or gravel. They also breed close to farms, in holes in walls and buildings.

 

Feeding: places where insects are plentiful, especially “bare areas” where they can see and catch their prey e.g. roofs, car parks, grass lawns, golf courses, ploughed fields and asphalt roads.

 

 

Geographic range

 

Resident throughout the whole of the UK all year round, except upland Scotland where the bird is a summer visitor.

 

 

Migration

 

Some birds migrate to Europe in the winter. The white wagtail can be seen in the UK as a regular passage migrant.

 

 

Conservation status

 

Secure.

 

 

Related species

 

Grey wagtail, yellow wagtail.

 

 

Where can I see this bird in Northwood / Medham?

 

This bird can be seen anywhere in our area. Farms are a good place to look e.g. Pallance Farm or Skimmers Farm. They have also been seen in the Traveller’s Joy car-park, and on the roofs of houses in Wyatts Lane and Oxford Street.

 

 

Why is this bird worth seeing?

 

 

The constant tail-wagging gives this bird an endearing quality. They have a habit of running fast in pursuit of food, then stopping abruptly, before taking off again. Pied wagtails can be attracted to gardens if you put out mealworms and scraps of food, but they are more likely to be seen when out and about.

It is worth checking fields with cattle in, as wagtails may be seen darting in amongst the legs of these beasts as they munch the grass. It is easy to walk past a large ploughed field thinking it is unlikely to contain any interesting fauna; however it is worth casting an eye over the ground as pied wagtails could be feeding there.

As dusk falls flocks of pied wagtails gather in town and city centres to form large roosts. The temperature here is often warmer than in the surrounding rural areas. I do not know of a pied wagtail roost on the Isle of Wight: if anyone knows where to find one please let me know.

 

 

Binoculars needed?

 

Useful for getting a closer look, but this bird will let you get reasonably close if you approach slowly.

 

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