White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

White Wagtail

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Motacillidae | [latin] Motacilla alba | [UK] White Wagtail | [FR] Bergeronnette grise | [DE] Bachstelze | [ES] Lavandera Blanca | [NL] Witte Kwikstaart


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Motacilla alba EU widespread, also w Alaska OR, AF
Motacilla alba alba
Motacilla alba alboides
Motacilla alba baicalensis
Motacilla alba dukhunensis
Motacilla alba leucopsis
Motacilla alba lugens
Motacilla alba ocularis
Motacilla alba persica
Motacilla alba personata
Motacilla alba subpersonata
Motacilla alba yarrellii

Physical charateristics

Long-tailed, head and neck black and white, and largely white to largely black wing-coverts. Black-backed birds are possibly confusable with the White-browed Wagtails. Sexes are similar. Underparts white; female a little pale. In winter chin and throat white, blackish breast band, young pale, without black.

Listen to the sound of White Wagtail

[audio:http://www.aviflevoland.nl/sounddb/W/White Wagtail.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 21 cm wingspan max.: 24 cm
size min.: 17 cm size max.: 19 cm
incubation min.: 11 days incubation max.: 16 days
fledging min.: 11 days fledging max.: 16 days
broods: 2   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia : widespread, also West Alaska


Readily perches on telegraph wires, roofs of buildings and, less commonly, in trees. Runs with jerky head movements, constantly wagging tail; flight undulating.


Five or six dark-speckled, pale gray eggs are laid in a nest made of grasses, rootlets, and leaves built near or on the ground in an earthen bank, rock crevice, or niche of an old building. Incubation ranges from 12 to 14 days and is carried out by both parents.

Feeding habits

Feeds on insects; forages on the ground, usually in open areas


This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Motacilla alba is a widespread breeder across most of Europe, which accounts for
less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its European breeding population is
extremely large (>13,000,000 pairs), and was stable between 1970-1990. Although
there were declines in Sweden, Finland and Latvia during 1990-2000, populations
were stable across the vast majority of its European range, and the species remained
stable overall.

White Wagtail status Least Concern


Varies from wholly migratory to more or less resident. Most northern populations in west Palearctic migrate south to Mediterranean area, tropics and subtropics of Africa; extralimital eastern populations to peninsular India and south-east Asia. Autumn passage occurs across entire length of Mediterranean.
Passage of Icelandic birds (nominate alba) through Britain and Ireland occurs mostly August-October. In southern Finland, passage begins late August and peaks mid-September with only stragglers in October. In Switzerland, autumn departure generally begins c. 10 September, peaks mid-October, but continues regularly well into December. Return movement in spring is early. Arrival of nominate alba over wide areas of central Europe may be as early as February but mainly March-April, while arrival in southern Scandinavia is late March and in northern Scandinavia around mid-April. On Fair Isle, passage may start mid-March, but is usually early April to early May.

Distribution map

White Wagtail distribution range map

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