Grey Wagtail

Motacilla cinerea

Photo credit: Ebird.org


Length: up to 19cm

Wingspan: up to 26cm

Weight: up to 18g

Average life span: 3 years


Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015)


When to see

January to December


Grey wagtails are commonly found by fast flowing upland rivers, although they move to lowland streams in winter. They nest near the water in small crevices which they line with twigs and moss. They eat flying invertebrates which they find around watercourses. They also eat tadpoles and snails from shallow waters.

It is not known exactly why the three UK species of wagtail wag their tails in the way they all exhibit. There are theories which suggest it is used as an signal to potential predators that the bird is aware and vigilant, or that it could be a signal to potential mates.


How to Identify

Grey wagtails have a grey back with black wings, and a yellow belly and rump. They have a very long black and white tail, which is often seen wagging and bouncing. The tail is noticeably longer than the similar yellow wagtail and pied wagtail. Males have a black bib and white moustache, whereas females have a grey and white face.


Wagtails by your Local River

Think you’ve spotted grey wagtails by your local river? We want to hear from you! Send your photos or stories to us at riverlife@forthriverstrust.org or at facebook.com/ForthRiversTrust