Grey-Headed Wagtail

Grey-Headed Wagtail


Profile Grey-Headed Wagtail
[order] Passeriformes |

[order] Passeriformes | [family] Motacillidae | [latin] Motacilla flava thunbergi | [UK] Grey-Headed Wagtail | [FR] Bergeronnette à tête grise | [DE] Schafstelze-thunbergi | [ES] Lavandera Boyera thunbergi | [IT] Cutrettola caposcuro | [NL] Noordse Kwikstaart

Noordse Kwikstaart determination

copyright: E. Roualet

Head dark gray, reaching down to the cheeks, and without white in males; lighter and washed greenish, with vestigial greenish supercilium in females.

Breeds in west Palearctic from lower middle to high latitudes, in arctic rundra and subarctic, boreal, temperate, steppe, and Mediterranean zones, mainly continental but marginally oceanic, largely on level or gently sloping lowlands.

Motacilla flava is a widespread summer visitor to most of Europe, which accounts
for less than half of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is
very large (>7,900,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although there
were widespread declines-most notably in Romania-during 1990-2000, other key
populations (such as those in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and Bulgaria) were
stable, and the species probably underwent only a slight decline overall.

Small invertebrates. Three main foraging techniques, including use of high flight:
1) Picking, picks items from ground or water sufface while walking.
2) Run-picking, makes quick darting run at prey, picking it op either from surface or as it takes off.
3) Flycatching, makes short flight from ground or perch, catching prey in mid-air either in bill or by knocking it down with wings.
Occasionally takes insects from plants in hovering fllight, or flies low over water snatching insects fromsurface. Tail assists balance when turning rapidly in flight.

This species has a large range, with an estimated global Extent of Occurrence of 10,000,000 km². It has a large global population estimated to be 5,000,000-50,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern. [conservation status from]

Breeding starts May-June in Scandinavia, April-May in Britain and Ireland, April-June in Southern and Eastern Europe, April-May in North Africa.
Nest site is built on ground, in side of tuft of vegetation. Nest, cup of grass leaves and stems placed in shallow scrape, lined with hair, wool, or fur. Clutch size is 4-6 eggs, which are Incubated 11-13 days by both sexes.

Most populations migratory, wintering Afrotropics, India, and south-east Asia. Egyptian race largely resident, and some parts of breeding range in north-west Africa and southern Spain occupied through the winter, with possibility that some individuals are resident.
Several factors make this a particularly well documented migrant: large populations; conspicuous (mostly diurnal) movement; use of huge communal roosts, both on migration and in winter, facilitating ringing; assumption by males of racially distinct breeding plumage shortly before spring migration. On the other hand, confusion can arise through racial intermediates and disjunct pattern of geographical variation. Precise wintering areas of the various races are not well established but in the main lie between south-east and south-west of respective breeding areas.

Movement broad-front in both spring and autumn, with numerous sightings of migrants at sea in all areas. Autumn passage in Switzerland has been noted as early as late July but main passage begins second half of August and peaks through September usually to end abruptly in early October, though individuals have been noted still passing in first third of November. At Straits of Gibraltar, passage extends from early August to early November peaking mid-September. Arrives in Afrotropics in late September, further south in October. Movement north in spring, after build-up of fat just south of Sahara, is also on broad front, starting in March and extending to early May. Males reach breeding grounds before females; arrivals are from late March in south, west, and much of central Europe, from mid-April in Moscow area, and from early May or early June in Lapland.
Many records occur of birds resembling a particular race well outside that race’s normal range, but some (at least) of these are part of the species’ normal variability and do not necessarily indicate vagrancy. Birds showing the characters of several races have been recorded in Britain, for example, mainly in spring and sometimes well outside their normal range: continental nominate flava occurs regularly and has bred occasionally.


  1. Measurements
  2. spanwidth min.: 24 cm
  3. spanwidth max.: 28 cm
  4. size min.: 15 cm
  5. size max.: 16 cm
  6. Breeding
  7. incubation min.: 11 days
  8. incubation max.: 13 days
  9. fledging min.: 14 days
  10. fledging max.: 17 days
  11. broods 1
  12. eggs min.: 4
  13. eggs max.: 7
  14. Conservation Status
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