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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : White Wagtail


Hebrides Bird Sightings : White Wagtail
Adult male White Wagtail

White Wagtail

Motacilla alba alba


Photograph © Ela Manser
Breasclete - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
September 7th 2008

"Masses of Wagtails about today, took this photo in Breasclete, but they were most numerous in Dail Beag car park feeding in the sunshine"

Citrine Wagtails (only 4 UK records a year) were spotted in South Uist and on St Kilda on the same day


Our Wagtail photographs

Pied Wagtail
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail


  • White Wagtail
  • Motacilla alba alba
  • WI: Uncommon or fairly common assage Visitor (small numbers). May have bred
  • Distribution: Mainland Europe, Asia, North West Africa. Resident in temperate parts of it's range 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. Grey & white bird. Stands wagging tail up & down or dashes about seeking food. Undulating flight.
  • Typical lifespan: 2 years
  • Similar birds: Pied Wagtail, 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 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.


White Wagtail records in the Western Isles

(Motacilla alba alba)

Uncommon or fairly common passage visitor (small numbers)
May have bred
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

The chart below shows how abundant the White Wagtail is during a month or when you are more likely to see it.

















Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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