A rather small, elegant slender bird with a long, narrow black and white tail which is constantly wagged up and down (as its name suggests). Common in various habitats such as cultivated land, often close to human habitation or water. The adult breeding male has a white forehead, cheeks and belly, a jet-black crown, nape, throat, breast, back, flanks, tail and wings which have white wing bars and white edges.
The pied wagtail typically walks with jerking head movements. When on the ground it dashes after prey, but stops suddenly with the tail pumping excitedly. It frequently calls when in undulating flight. The call is a cheerful ‘tsle-vitt’ or ‘zi-ze-litt’.
Pied wagtails are insectivores, feeding on both ground and aerial invertebrates. Commonly seen on pavements and rooftops, they will come into gardens to feed on seeds and bread in the autumn and winter, when insects are scarce. Resident pied wagtails form large roosts (in trees or reed beds) to keep warm during the winter and safe from predators.
- Length: 18cm
- Wingspan 25-30cm
- Weight: 17-28g
- Average Lifespan: 2 years
Classified in the UK as Green (Amber for sub-species ‘yarrellii’) under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The pied wagtail is one of the most common and widespread breeding birds, though in winter, the species is more thinly distributed across coastal and low-lying parts of Scotland, with largest concentrations found in eastern, central and southern Scotland.
When to see
Pied wagtails can be found as residents across Scotland all year round, but may leave some highland and northern areas in winter to go south, as far as North Africa. They return in the spring (early March), when highest passage numbers occur along the Scottish east coast.
- The pied wagtail is a subspecies of the white wagtail, found in mainland Europe. It breeds almost entirely within the British Isles and adjacent coasts of north-western Europe.
- Despite a number of theories put forward to explain the characteristic tail-wagging behaviour, evidence supports the notion that it is used either to disturb their insect prey or as a behaviour developed for social signalling.