Backyard Birds

Citrine Wagtail (Motacilla citreola)

The Citrine Wagtail or Yellow-headed Wagtail (Motacilla citreola) is a small songbird in the family Motacillidae.

The term citrine refers to its yellowish coloration. Its systematics, phylogeny and taxonomy are subject of considerable debate in the early 21st century.

This is because this bird forms a cryptic species complex with the Yellow Wagtail (M. flava). Which of the many taxa in this group should properly refer to which population is unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future.

Distribution / Range

This species breeds in north central Asia in wet meadows and tundra.

It migrates in winter to south Asia, often to highland area. Its range is expanding westwards, and it is a rare but increasing vagrant to western Europe.

Vagrants seem to extend the migration rather than straying en route; in Bhutan for example, though along one of the species’ migration flyways, the Citrine Wagtail has been recorded as an extremely rare passer-by rather than staying even for a few days or weeks.


Nesting / Breeding

It nests on the ground, laying 4-5 speckled eggs.

Diet / Feeding

This is an insectivorous bird of open country near water, such as wet meadows and bogs.


It is a slender, 15.5-17 cm long bird, with the long, constantly wagging tail characteristic of the genus Motacilla.

The adult male in breeding plumage is basically grey or black above, with white on the remiges, and bright yellow below and on the entire head except for the black nape.

In winter plumage, its yellow underparts may be diluted by white, and the head is brownish with a yellowish supercilium (line above each eye).

Females look generally like washed-out versions of males in winter plumage.


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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