Grey Wagtail

Grey Wagtail  Motacilla  cinerea


  • Motacilla : Greek word muttextype of birdmentioned by Hesychius. It is a diminutive of motare, ” to move about”, from medieval times it led to the misunderstanding of cilla as “tail”.
  • Cinerea :Latin word cinis, cineris – ashes { Ashy grey}

Vernacular Names:   Hindi:Saletikhanjan, Sans:Dhusarkhajjan, Kash:Khakdobbai, Pun:Saletimamola, Ass:Haldiyabalimahi, Guj:Vanapilakiyo, Mar:Rakhi dhobi, Karda Dhobi/ parit, Te:Mudi-tippudu-jitta, Mal:Vazhikulukki, Kan: Boodusipilaea

Distribution in India:Breeds in Himalayas and wide spread winter visitor in India.

Description: Size of 17–20 cm; male weighs 15–22 g, female weighs 14–20 g. It is the only long-tailed wagtail with blue-grey upperparts and yellow uppertail-coverts and underparts. The male in breeding plumage has narrow white super­cilium and eyering, black lores, white mousta­chial stripe. The top and side of head are grey, upperparts are grey, olive-yellow on rump and uppertail coverts, upperwing-coverts are olive-grey. The  remiges are black, inner ones are edged white; long tail is black, outer three rectrices are white; chin and throat are black, rest of underparts are bright yellow. The under wings aregrey, white bases on flight-feathers; iris are dark brown; bill is black; legs are pinkish, pinkish-brown or dark flesh-brown. The non-breeding male differs in having chin and throat white or buffy white, supercilium is buffy. The breeding female differs from male in having chin and throat as buffy white, mottled black, sometimes all black; non-breeding female differs from male in paler yellow underparts, more buff on breast.The immature is similar to non-breeding female, but pale markings are more buff, dark markings are more olive. The race melanope is somewhat darker and shorter tailed than nominate. The race robusta is marginally shorter-tailed than nominate, on average slightly darker above and deeper yellow below, with more extensive and deeper black on throa. The race canariensis is richer yellow, sometimes more orange-yellow below, greenish-tinged on back, white markings on face and wings more contrasting. The race patriciae is darker grey above, particularly on cheeks, white supercilium only behind eye, and shorter tail with less white on outer rectrix. The race schmitzi is similar to race patriciae, but has shorter bill and less black on tail.

Habitat: It is found in fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers with riffles and exposed rocks or shoals, often in forested areas, more lowland watercourses, even canals, where there are artificial waterfalls, weirs, millraces or lock gates. In non-breeding season it is found in wider variety of habitats, including farmyards, sewage farms, forest tracks, tea estates, and even town centers. It breeds at up to 4100 m in Himalayas.

Food habits: It eats insects like fly larvae and adults and nymphal and adult mayflies and caddis flies, dragonflies, moth caterpillars and adult butterflies, beetles, lacewings and alderflies, bugs, grasshoppers; freshwater shrimps, terrestrial snails and spiders. It forages by walking and picking, run-picking, and flying up a short distance from ground to catch an insect. It also makes flycatching sallies from a perch out over water, this technique being more frequent in summer months when temperatures are high and aerial insects more active. It also wades in shallow water to pick aquatic prey.

Breeding habits: They breed in Apr in Europe; Mar to May in N Africa, Mar to Jun in Canaries,May in Azores; Apr to Jul in North Indian Subcontinent. They lay two broods and are monogamous and highly territorial.  The male has parachuting display-flight, descends from tree or overhead wire, wings lowered and spread, tail depressed and yellow rump feathers conspicuously puffed up, singing until it reaches ground.  The nest is built by both sexes. The nest is a typical platform and cup of coarser material, lining of finer grasses, root fibers and usually horse hair, placed on rock ledge or in crevice in riverbank, or often on ledge in wall, under bridge or in drainpipe. They lay a clutch of 3–7 eggs. Theincubation is done by both sexes, female taking larger share. The incubationperiod is11–13 days. The chicks are fed by both parents, both also remove faecal sacs. The nestling periodis11–13 days. The young attended and fed by both parents for 2–3 weeks after fledging, sometimes by male alone if female soon lays a second clutch. The adults exhibit injury-feigning distraction display when flushed from nest with young.