Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Key facts

Scientific name: Motacilla cinerea

Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 38,000 pairs

Conservation status: Red

Length: 18 – 19 cm

Wingspan: 25 – 27 cm

Weight: 14 – 22 g


Adult male grey wagtails in breeding plumage have blue-grey upperparts, black wing feathers with white fringes on the tertials, and a yellow rump. Their long tail is black with white edges. They have yellow bellies, and bright lemon-yellow undertail coverts.

The nape, crown, and face are grey with a white supercilium and they have a black bib on the throat with a white moustachial stripe. Their eyes are black with a broken white eye ring, the bill is black, and their legs and feet are a dull pink.

Out of breeding season their throat is pale buff and their underparts are lighter yellow.

Female grey wagtails look similar to males in non-breeding plumage although some have a mottled black throat.

Juveniles resemble females but they have a pinky-buff lower bill and throat with no black markings. 


Grey wagtails breed between April and July. They build their nests in crevices or holes near fast running water, such as streams, waterfalls, canals, or lakes. It is built mostly by the female and made from twigs, grass, and moss.

Grey wagtails lay 3-7 smooth, glossy, cream-coloured eggs with grey spots which are incubated by the female alone for 11-14 days. Chicks are fed by both parents and they fledge 11-13 days after hatching.


Grey wagtails eat insects, including midges and ants. They will also take small molluscs and tadpoles.

Grey Wagtail

Where to see them

Grey wagtails can be seen all year round across most of the UK except for the northern and western isles of Scotland. Look out for them near fast-flowing water in the summer. In winter they can be spotted on farmland, lowland streams, and city centres.


Nelson Conceição/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Grey wagtails and dippers can nest in the same habitats and there are some records of inter specific feeding of dipper chicks by adult grey wagtails. 

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