British Garden Birds Logo Home page. Bird identification guide. Site map. Discussion board. Articles on birds and birdwatching. Having problems? Search this website. Photograph album. Guestbook for your comments. News about the birds in my garden. Contact us. Test your identification skills. About this website. Field trip reports. Links to other websites. Awards won by this website. British Garden Birds Navigation Map

Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail Male Pied Wagtail Male
Small black and white bird with a wagging long tail.
Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.
Motacilla alba yarrelli
Length: 18 cm  (7")
Wing Span: 25-30 cm  (10-12")
Weight: 20-27 g  (¾-1 oz) Female Pied Wagtail Female
Like the male but greyer.
Breeding Pairs: 300 000
Present: All Year
Status: Green
Description   Voice   Feeding   Nesting   Movements   Conservation   My Garden  
Previous   Next  


The Pied Wagtail is a small black and white (pied) bird with a long tail that is sometimes mistaken to be a young Magpie, but is much smaller than a Magpie; in fact, it is only a little bigger than a Great Tit. The most distinctive feature is its wagging tail - it never stops!

The differences in the plumage of males and females and at different times of the year are quite complicated:

Juveniles are brownish-grey and often tinged with yellow.

There is another subspecies, the White Wagtail (M. a. alba) that is more common in Europe and has grey back, rump and wings. These sometimes are passage migrants in spring and autumn.

The Grey Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail both have some yellow on them.


Choose from Quicktime and mp3. Song Call
  Quicktime mp3 Quicktime mp3

In flight, the Pied Wagtail utters a high-pitched "chissick" sound.

They sing their twittering song from a perch or in the air.


Pied Wagtails feed predominantly on insects that it finds while searching lawns, fields and verges. The insects are typically flies and caterpillars.

In areas where Pied Wagtails are common, you can often hear them calling as they fly over favourite hunting grounds to check if there is already a Pied Wagtail feeding there.


Pied Wagtails build their nest in holes in walls, buildings, or old nests of larger birds. Grass and mosses are used to construct the small cup-shaped nest.

They will use open-fronted nest boxes.

The eggs are pale grey with dark grey spots, smooth and glossy, and about 20 mm by 15 mm. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young.

Breeding Data
Breeding Starts Number of Clutches Number of Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
May 1-2 3-7 12-14 13-16


Pied Wagtails that breed in the uplands often move south and even across the English Channel to France for the winter, but otherwise the birds tend to be sedentary.


A Medium BTO Alert exists for the Pied Wagtail because their numbers alongside waterways have dwindled.

My Garden

Graph of garden visits.

Some years ago a Pied Wagtail visited the garden quite frequently, usually strutting around the lawn looking for insects. The last time one visited the garden was in 1998. Happily, a Pied Wagtail has been heard calling a few times in 2005, so hopefully we shall see more of this species again.

Last revision: 12 Jul 2014
Copyright © David Gains 1999-2014.
Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites