Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Key facts

Scientific name: Motacilla flava

Status: Subspecies, breeding in Britain

Breeding pairs: 15,000 territories

Conservation status: Red

Length: 15 – 17 cm

Wingspan: 23 – 27 cm

Weight: 11 – 26 g


Male yellow wagtails in breeding plumage have blue-grey heads, with a white stripe around their eyes. The upperparts are olive-brown with black flight feathers and pale wingbars.

Males’ underparts, including the chin and the throat, are bright yellow with a green tinge on the sides and flanks. The tail is dark brown, the bill is black, eyes are dark brown and the legs and feet are black.

Females in breeding plumage have similar colouring but are duller with less uniform yellow underparts. Both non-breeding adult yellow wagtails are paler.

Juvenile yellow wagtails are similar to the non-breeding female with greenish upperparts.


Yellow wagtails breed alone with the nest built mostly by the female. It is a shallow scrape in the ground lined with grass and animal hair.

Yellow wagtails lay 4-6 buff-white eggs with brown markings. Both adults incubate the eggs for 11-13 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and they fledge 10-14 days after hatching but will remain with their parents for several weeks afterwards.


Yellow wagtails eat small insects and seeds. They are often found around grazing cattle and horses taking the insects that are flicked from the animals.

Yellow Wagtail

Where to see them

Yellow wagtails are summer visitors and migrate to Africa for the winter. They arrive in late March and leave in September. They can be found in central and eastern England, eastern Wales and southern Scotland.


Lakshmikant Rajaram Neve/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Up to 20 subspecies of yellow wagtails have been classified. The subspecies found in Britian is M. f. flavissima, also known as the yellow-crowned wagtail.

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