Backyard Birds

Blue-headed Wagtail or Yellow Wagtail

The Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava) is a small passerine in the wagtail family Motacillidae, which also includes the pipits and longclaws.

This species breeds in much of temperate Europe and Asia and has a foothold in North America in Alaska.



Distribution / Range

This species breeds in much of temperate Europe and Asia and has a foothold in North America in Alaska.

It is resident in the milder parts of its range, such as western Europe, but northern and eastern populations migrate to Africa and south Asia.

The American population, sometimes separated as the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla tschutschensis, winters further down the Pacific coast.

Diet / Feeding

This is an insectivorous bird of open country near water, such as wet meadows. It nests in tussocks, laying 4-8 speckled eggs.



This is a slender 15-16 cm long bird, with the characteristic long, constantly wagging tail of its genus. It is the shortest tailed of the European wagtails. The breeding adult male is basically brown above and yellow below. In other plumages, the yellow may be diluted by white.

The heads of breeding males come in a variety of colors and patterns depending on subspecies.

The nominate M. f. flava of western Europe has a blue-grey head with a white supercilium (line above each eye).

The British subspecies, the Yellow Wagtail (M. f. flavissima) has a yellow head with a brighter yellow supercilium (line above eye).

Nominate Blue-headed Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail form a narrow hybrid zone in northern France. Birds from this zone vary in appearance, but one type, which resembles nominate Blue-headed Wagtail (except that the blue tones to the head are paler and more mauve and the white of the head is more extensive, particularly on the throat, ear-coverts, and supercilium) is colloquially referred to as Channel Wagtail.

Black-headed Wagtail (ssp. feldegg) of southeast Europe has a jet-black cap.


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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