Backyard Birds

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba)

White Wagtails (Motacilla alba) Information

Pied Wagtail

The White Wagtails (Motacilla alba alba) are small perching birds that occur in much of Europe and Asia and parts of North Africa. Very rarely, they breed as far north as Alaska.

Those found in the milder parts of the range are typically residents; the others typically migrate south to Africa for the winter.

The partially migratory British and Irish form – the Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) – appears to have expanded their breeding territories to include areas on the adjacent European mainland.

Wagtails were named for their characteristic long, constantly wagging tails.

They inhabit open country, often near human settlements and water.

Pied Wagtail

Species and Ranges

  • Motacilla alba alba (Linnaeus, 1758) – Nominate Race
    • They breed in southeastern Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands (situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean), and throughout continental Europe east to the Urals, Turkey, and Levant. They winter in the southern parts of their range and south to western and eastern Africa, Arabia, and southwestern Asia.
  • Pied Wagtail – Motacilla alba yarrellii (Gould, 1837)
    • They breed in Great Britain and Ireland and are suspected of having expanded their breeding territory into the northern parts of Western Europe. Travel south to winter in northwestern Africa.
  • Motacilla alba dukhunensis (Sykes, 1832)
    • They breed from central Russia (Ural Mountains east to the Taymyr Peninsula) south to the Caucasus, northwestern Iran, Kyrgyz Steppes, and the foothills of the Altai mountain range. They winter in the Middle East east to the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Motacilla alba ocularis (Swinhoe, 1860)
    • They breed in northern and northeastern Siberia (east from the Taymyr Peninsula and the Yenisey River, south to the Lensk region, Stanovoy Mountains, and northern Kamchatka); as well as western Alaska. They winter south to Asia east from the northeastern Indian Subcontinent.
  • Motacilla alba subpersonata (Meade-Waldo, 1901)
    • Found in western Morocco (northwestern Africa)
  • Motacilla alba persica (Blanford, 1876)
    • Found in north central and western Iran (southern Elburz Mountains and Zagros Mountains).
  • Motacilla alba personata Gould, 1861
    • Breed in central Asia – from Transcaspia and northern Iran east to the western Sayan Mountains in southern Russia; western Mongolia, northwestern and western Xinjiang in extreme northwestern China; south to northern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and Kashmir. Winter in Iran and eastern Arabia east to the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Motacilla alba baicalensis Swinhoe, 1871
    • Breed in south-central Siberia (upper Yenisey River east to the Stanovoy Mountains); south to Mongolia and northeastern China (northeastern Nei Mongol). Winter in northern India east to southeastern China and central Indochina.
  • Motacilla alba lugens Gloger, 1829
    • Breed in southeastern Russia, from the southern coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk, Sakhalin, central Kamchatka, and Commander Islands, south to northern Korea and Japan. Winter in Myanmar east to southeastern China, Taiwan, and southern Japan.
  • Motacilla alba leucopsis Gould, 1838
    • Breed in central and eastern China, from Qinghai east to Heilongjiang and western Zhejiang, south to northern Guangxi and northern Guangdong; in the Russian Far East, Amurland, Ussuriland; Korea and southwestern Japan (southwestern Honshu and northern Kyushu. They winter in southern Asia east of northern India.
  • Motacilla alba alboides (Hodgson, 1836)
    • Breed in the Himalayas, east from northeastern Pakistan; southern China, from southern Xizang, south and southeastern Qinghai east to southern Shaanxi, ranging south to Yunnan and Guizhou; northern Myanmar, extreme northern Laos, and extreme northern Vietnam. They spend the winter in the foothills and south to Bangladesh and northern Thailand.


These slender White Wagtails measure about 16.5 – 19 cm in length, including their long tails.

The plumage is grey above and white below, with a black cap, white face, and black throat.

The Pied Wagtails plumage is generally blacker than that of the nominate race of Western Europe.

Diet / Feeding

They mostly feed on insects, favoring bare areas for foraging, where they can easily spot and pursue their prey.

Nesting / Breeding

They generally nest in the crevices of stone walls or natural and man-made structures.


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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