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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Pied Wagtail

Hebrides Bird Sightings : Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

Motacilla alba yarrellii

Gaelic: Brec-an-sil


Photograph © Debbie Bozkurt
Ness - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
April 2007


Our Wagtail photographs:

Pied Wagtail
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail


  • Pied Wagtail
  • Motacilla alba yarrellii
  • UK: summer 293,000 pairs BTO
  • UK: Migrant/Resident Breeder, Passage Visitor
  • WI: Uncommon Migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs), Fairly common passage (occurs in small numbers), mainly absent in winter
  • Distribution: Europe, Asia, North West Africa. Resident in temperate parts of it's range (UK Leaves highland & northern areas of Scotland, WI in winter) elsewise in winter migrates south to Africa
  • Habitat: Most areas including town centres. Prefers bare areas where it can see its prey. Often in open country near water, beaches, car parks. Also flycatches in air. Nests in crevices in stone walls & similar places.
  • Small and sprightly. Long-tailed. Black & white bird. Stands wagging tail up & down or dashes about seeking food. Undulating flight.
  • Typical lifespan: 2 years
  • Listen to a Pied Wagtail (RSPB site)
  • Similar birds: White wagtail (European bird - see it spring & autumn), Citrine Wagtail (very rare - yellowish) , Yellow Wagtail (Rare)


There are two races of White Wagtail in Europe. The ones we are most familiar with in the Western Isles are the Pied Wagtails Motacilla alba yarrellii, the adults of which have dark or black backs.

In the mainland Europe species of the White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba , the back is grey. We get Spring and Autumn passages of this species, and a few have bred.

Iain Livingston wrote a guide to help ringers separate Pied Wagtails (M.a.yarrellii) from White Wagtails (M.a.alba).

"We were catching good numbers of Pied Wagtails.. and were using Svensson, to age and sex the birds, when the penny suddenly dropped! The pale, grey crowned first winter birds were not funny looking female Pieds but were White Wagtails ...

...At peak times, September and October, up to 80% of ALL these wagtails will be Whites and I am now beginning to change over from picking the Whites out of the Pieds to the opposite. At these times it is safer to assume that the bird you have is a White Wagtail until you can identify it as a Pied Wagtail."


The guide is available as a PDF document here (680kb) and is well illustrated with photographs.



Pied Wagtail records in the Western Isles

Uncommon Migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs), Fairly common passage (occurs in small numbers), mainly absent in winter
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the bird is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)


The White Wagtail Motacilla alba alba is an uncommon or fairly common passage visitor (small numbers) and it may have bred.



Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

Debbie's online photo album

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