Fun Grey Wagtail Facts For Kids

Mellisa Nair
Oct 20, 2022 By Mellisa Nair
Originally Published on Aug 30, 2021
Edited by Katherine Cook
Fact-checked by Sonali Rawat
Discover amazing grey wagtail facts.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.7 Min

Motacillidae is a family of small passerine birds that was introduced in 1821 by Thomas Horsfield M.D, an American physician and naturalist. There are about 70 different species that are further divided into five genera including pipits, longclaws, and wagtails.

This article will tell you everything you need to know about a special species of wagtail birds, including details about their physical appearance, size, weight, habitats, population size, distribution or range, conservation status, diet, song, feeding, incubation period, and nesting habits,

A European grey wagtail is a medium-sized songbird in the genus of Motacilla. Its scientific name Motacilla cinerea was given by Marmaduke Tunstall, an English ornithologist in 1771.

Their name is derived from Latin and translates to 'ash-grey' or 'ashes', a reference made to their grey plumage. They are also known as garden birds.

The grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) is found all over Europe and is a common resident of the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are also found across the tropical regions of Asia and Africa. Their relationships with other wagtails have not been researched well enough yet, which leads to confusion while studying and describing their external morphology.

As of now, these birds are considered close relatives to citrine wagtails and blue-headed wagtails. They are often found near streams, lakes, ponds, and areas with temperate climatic conditions.

Their diet is primarily made up of insects and small invertebrates. These wagtails breed in summer starting from early April until August and migrate to warmer regions before winter.

Read on to find more about them. Learn about some other birds from our flycatcher facts and whiskered treeswift facts pages.

Grey Wagtail Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a grey wagtail?

This northern bird, the grey wagtail, belongs to the Animalia kingdom.

What class of animal does a grey wagtail belong to?

The grey wagtail belongs to the Aves class and is in the genus of Motacilla.

How many grey wagtails are there in the world?

According to the IUCN Red List, the total number of mature individuals is 6,900,000-19,800,000. In Europe, the breeding population consists of 689,000-1,980,000 pairs which totals to 1,380,000-3,960,000 breeding individuals.

Where do grey wagtails live?

The grey wagtail bird's distribution occurs across the Palearctic region. In Europe, they can be found mainly in the United Kingdom, and large flocks of these birds are seen around the hills or mountainous regions of England, Scotland, and Wales, except the northern, and western Isles of Scotland.

These birds are summer migrants and do not migrate any other else. They do not migrate from one place to another but change elevations, meaning they move from upland regions to lowland regions.

This behavior is known as altitudinal migration. In England, these birds arrive sometime in mid-April and stay mobile until September or October.

What is a grey wagtail's habitat?

This wagtail is a common resident of rocky habitats, streams, lakes, suburban parklands, fast-flowing rivers, and regions with tropical and temperate climatic conditions. They usually inhabit upland areas but migrate during the summer. In winter, they can be spotted near farmyards and even in towns, perching on overhead wires, roofs, nearby open areas, or in an urban garden.

Who do grey wagtails live with?

Grey wagtails are solitary birds but are occasionally spotted foraging in pairs near meadows and shallow water marshes. In winter, they roost in small-sized flocks.

How long do grey wagtails live?

Grey wagtails have an average life span of three years and can live for a maximum of eight years in the wild.

How do they reproduce?

Grey wagtails are monogamous and form pairs for the breeding season. A male grey wagtail before the breeding season begins performs a series of acts in which he takes short flights up in the air and lands nonchalantly while fluttering its wings, followed by a rapid series of high pitched call notes or a brief song.

A breeding male bird displays a black throat that is edged by white-grey stripes. The breeding season for grey wagtails begins in April and lasts up to July or early August.

The grey wagtail nesting habits are similar to other wagtails.

A short while before the breeding season, the male grey wagtail and the female grey wagtail construct a nest made of twigs, mud, grass, moss, lined with other finer materials. The grey wagtail builds its nest inside crooks or cavities of old buildings, meadows, farms, ruins, and other manmade structures.

A female grey wagtail lays about three to six eggs in a single clutch. These eggs are pale brown and covered with speckles.

Multiple broods are raised by a single pair of birds in one breeding season to increase the survival rate of the young chicks. The nests are often attacked by snakes and weasels to steal and feed on the eggs. The incubation period lasts for about two or four weeks.

The male grey wagtail is responsible for feeding and looking after the female, as the female grey wagtail stays busy laying and incubating new eggs. The hatched chicks fledge the nests within a two weeks.

What is their conservation status?

 The IUNC Red List of Threatened Species has classified grey wagtails a species of Least Concern.

Grey Wagtail Fun Facts

What do grey wagtails look like?

The male grey wagtail and the female grey wagtail can be identified or distinguished based on their coloration. Male wagtails feature a bright yellow breast and rump, a black throat, while female birds have a pale yellow breast and rump, and a greyish-black throat.

In general, these wagtails have grey upperparts, a yellow breast, and white underparts in contrast to the uniform grey plumage and grey wagtail wings. They are slim, small to medium-sized birds with fairly long tails.

A grey wagtail juvenile, on the other hand, has duller plumage, pink feet, and bill as opposed to the adults. Even though their name suggests that they are uniform grey, they are quite colorful. They bear an uncanny resemblance to the yellow wagtail.

Fun facts about the grey wagtail bird include their population, song habits, what they feed on, and their conservation status.

How cute are they?

Grey wagtails are really cute thanks to their small size, round belly, yellow and grey plumage, and enthralling behavior such as they walk quietly along shorelines or in nearby open areas, pumping their long, white-striped tail up and down. A grey wagtail flying or soaring up in the sky is also an adorable sight.

How do they communicate?

A grey wagtail in flight or when mobile communicates via vocalizations and body language. Just like other wagtails, they also frequently wag their tail. While flying, they produce a sharp call that is often an attempt made by the males to attract a female bird during the breeding season.

How big is a grey wagtail?

Grey wagtails can grow up to 7-7.8 in (18–20 cm) in size. A crane is nearly seven times bigger than this bird.

How fast can a grey wagtail fly?

The grey wagtail flight speed is unknown. Since grey wagtails seasonally migrate from an upland region to habitats in the lowlands depending on the climatic conditions, they can probably fly swiftly.

How much does a grey wagtail weigh?

Their average weight is around 0.4-0.7 oz (14-22 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

These birds do not have specific names for their male and female species. They are simply called males and females.

What would you call a baby grey wagtail?

A baby grey wagtail is called a chick.

What do they eat?

These birds forage in pairs and their diet includes a number of aquatic invertebrates including adult flies, mayflies, and water beetles. While foraging near shallow water marshes, they use rocks in the water to observe and spot their prey and often perch on trees for the same.

Falcons prey on these wagtails.

Are they poisonous?

No, they are not poisonous.

Would they make a good pet?

No, these birds are wild, migratory, and prefer nesting in their natural habitat. You can attract them to your garden by installing or building an artificial stream or pond.

Did you know...

This bird has the longest tail compared to other wagtails.

Where do wagtails build their nests?

Wagtails build their nest between rocks of fast-flowing streams, rivers, or on trees. They also build their nest inside cavities and cracks of man-made structures and ruins. The materials they use are moss, twigs, mud, grass, and other fine materials.

Are grey wagtails endangered?

No, the population size is stable and they are not endangered. They are relatively common.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our blackpoll warbler facts and red-backed shrike facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free and printable grey wagtail coloring pages.

Grey Wagtail Facts

What Did They Prey On?

Snails and small insects

What Type of Animal were they?


Average Litter Size?


How Much Did They Weigh?

0.4-0.7 oz (14-22 g)

What habitat Do they Live In?

Fast flowing rivers, lakes, wetlands, lowland streams

Where Do They Live?

Northern Scotland, africa

How Long Were They?


How Tall Were They?

7-7.8 in (18–20 cm)







Scientific Name

Motacilla cinerea

What Do They Look Like?

Grey and bright yellow

Skin Type


What Are Their Main Threats?

snakes, humans

What is their Conservation Status?

Least Concern

Northern Scotland africa

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Written by Mellisa Nair

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Economics and English Literature

Mellisa Nair picture

Mellisa NairBachelor of Arts specializing in Economics and English Literature

Specializing in the creation of SEO-friendly content, Mellisa brings enthusiasm and expertise to our team. Her work in digital marketing and social media is complemented by her academic background in economics and English literature, as she holds a Bachelor's degree in these subjects from Wilson College Chowpatty, Mumbai. Mellisa's experience working with clients from various industries, including retail, education, and technology, reflects her ability to adapt her skills to different contexts and audiences.

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Fact-checked by Sonali Rawat

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

Sonali Rawat picture

Sonali RawatBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature, Masters of Art specializing in English and Communication Skills

Sonali has a Bachelor's degree in English literature from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University and is currently pursuing a Master's in English and Communication from Christ University. With considerable experience in writing about lifestyle topics, including travel and health, she has a passion for Japanese culture, especially fashion, and anime, and has written on the subject before. Sonali has event managed a creative-writing festival and coordinated a student magazine at her university. Her favorite authors are Toni Morrison and Anita Desai.

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