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Wagtail – what is worth knowing about this bird?

The little black and white bird is a common sight not only in Poland, but also in other parts of Europe. Gray Wagtail, because we are talking about it, has cousins ​​on almost all continents. Some of the behaviors of birds of this species are fascinating and really interesting, so it is definitely worth getting to know them better.

Motacilla alba – occurrence

Pliszka siwa (Motacilla alba) is a bird that occurs almost all over Europe – from Portugal to the Urals. It can be found in both warm Spain and cool Iceland.

Wagtail are not as numerous as, for example, finches and sparrows. However, they definitely beat these species in terms of the width of their occurrence. During the breeding season, gray wagtail does not only appear on the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia.

In Poland, wagtail can be found practically everywhere, even in the high mountains. They are most numerous in Masuria and in the eastern part of Podlasie. The greatest concentration of gray wagtail is found in river valleys. These birds can be found much more often on the outskirts of cities and towns than in their centers.

Wagtail migrations

Wagtail do not winter in Poland. They are migratory birds that migrate short distances. They start to prepare for departure around August. Then you can see whole groups of these birds gathered in one place.

Departures begin in September and run until October. Wagtail is associated with the arrival of spring, because the first birds of this species return to Poland at the beginning of March. As the climate warms up, however, they begin to appear in Poland at the end of February.

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Wagtail – a bird of many varieties. Systematics

In Poland, we meet the gray wagtail, which also occurs in other parts of Europe. Ornithology distinguishes eight more subspecies Motacilla alba:

  • British Wagtail – occurs in the British Isles and on the European coasts of the Atlantic.
  • Moroccan Wagtail – occurs in the western part of Morocco.
  • Masked Wagtail – occurs in the Middle East, Southwest China, and the Himalayas.
  • White-faced Wagtail – occurs around Siberia and south-eastern China.
  • Northern Wagtail – occurs in Siberia and Alaska.
  • Black-backed Wagtail – occurs in North Korea and northern Japan.
  • Wagtail Wagtail – occurs in Siberia and Western Asia.
  • Black-Eared Wagtail – occurs in the Himalayas and northern Indochina.

What does a gray wagtail look like?

White Wagtail, the most common in Poland, the wagtail is a medium-sized bird with a body length of 18 to 20 cm. Its plumage is black and white with the addition of a gray color on the back. There are white stripes on the black wings.

The mating plumage is similar in both males and females. Then the back and wings turn gray. In summer plumage, white parts of the body may appear slightly dirty.

Gray wagtail – lifestyle

Habits and way of movement of wagtails

Wagtail can most often be seen during its walks on the ground. This bird wanders in search of insects, and its tail constantly goes up and down during this time. Like much larger storks, wagtails often walk behind farm machinery and eat the earthworms they dug.

When you come across a flying wagtail, you’ll recognize it by its very distinctive flight technique. The bird rises by flapping its wings intensely, then folds them down and lowers sharply. As a result, it flies in a specific undulating way.

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Wagtail birds are migratory birds which, however, do not cover such long distances as, for example, storks. They mostly winter in warm countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few groups fly from Poland to Africa, although ornithologists have observed such cases.

Wagtail – a loner or a herd?

Wagtail is quite territorial, and this type of behavior is not limited to the breeding season. This does not mean, however, that the wagtail always lives alone. These birds usually form tiny flocks.

In the largest groups, they can be found in the period of preparation for departures. The gatherings most often take place near rivers and other bodies of water. Wagtail migrates as it lives – in very small groups.

What do wagtail feed on?

All species of wagtail feed on small invertebrates:

  • muchami,
  • butterflies,
  • beetles,
  • mosquitoes,
  • worms.

They look for food in the ground during walks, sometimes they also catch it in flight.

Gray Wagtail – voice

Listening to birds singing is one of the most enjoyable aspects of nature walks. Can you hear the wagtail then? Of course! The gray wagtail speaks much more willingly and louder than its relative – the yellow wagtail.

Birds of this species sing while sitting on tall objects – the roofs of single-family houses, telegraph poles or lonely trees. You will recognize them by the melodic “cirrr, cirr” repeated over and over again.

Wagtail – threat and protection

Wagtail is very common almost all over the world. They are not an endangered species in Poland, but they cannot be considered as numerous as, for example, finches or sparrows. Although they are not threatened with extinction, they are a protected species in Poland.

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Gray wagtail – interesting facts

  • From time to time in Poland you can meet other than gray and yellow wagtail subspecies. They stay with us for a short time, making a stop during the migration.
  • The gray wagtail migrates to the Mediterranean in winter, although some groups even reach African savannas.
  • Wagtail is looking for food mainly in fields and meadows. There they compete for food with other birds, mainly larks.
  • Wagtail nests in the ground. The nest is built by the female, placing it in a hole in thick grass.
  • The smallest of all wagtails is the yellow wagtail with a body length of about 16 cm.
  • Wagtail often appears around humans. They are not particularly timid birds, they are cautious but do not avoid people.
  • According to some ornithologists, each spring from seven hundred to eight hundred thousand pairs of gray wagtail flies to our country.

Wagtail – summary

You can meet the wagtail all over our country. This little black and white bird arrives in the spring and sets up for flight in early fall. A characteristic feature of wagtails is nesting, moving on the ground and flying in an unusual waving style.

Although wagtail is not threatened with extinction, it is under strict species protection in our country. According to ornithologists, up to one and a half million gray wagtail can live in Poland, so during your next walk outside the city, look around – perhaps you will see or hear one of them.