Family Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Least Concern

Cape Wagtail (Motacilla capensis)


French: Bergeronnette du Cap German: Kapstelze Spanish: Lavandera de El Cabo

Motacilla capensis


, 1766,

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa


Race simplicissima sometimes treated as a separate species. Proposed races bradfieldi (from W Namibia) and beirensis (S Mozambique) included in nominate. Three subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. c. wellsi Ogilvie-Grant, 1911 – E DRCongo E to SW Uganda and NW Tanzania, and W & C Kenya.
  • M. c. simplicissima Neumann, 1929 – Angola E to SE DRCongo, S to NE Namibia, N Botswana and Zambia, and NW Zimbabwe (on R Zambezi).
  • M. c. capensis Linnaeus, 1766 – W & S Namibia, SE Botswana, much of Zimbabwe and W & S Mozambique S to S South Africa.
  • Descriptive notes

    17–20·5 cm; 17–25 g. Adult nominate race has narrow buffy supercilium, dark brown to black lores; above, mainly dark olivaceous grey, wing feathers... read more


    Song a jumble of twittering notes, “tweep tweep tweep, witititi, cheep-tweep”,... read more


    In S occurs near any sort of water, so long as open ground nearby; found around houses and gardens... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet mainly insects, including flies (Diptera), often midges (Chironomidae) and mosquitoes (Culicidae) and their larvae, larval and adult... read more


    Mar, Jun–Sept and Nov–Dec in Uganda, Jan, Apr–May, Jul and Sept in Kenya, and Jul–Aug in Zambia; lays in most... read more


    Largely sedentary; some wandering in parts of E Africa, and in parts of South Africa and Zambia... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Frequent and widespread; most common in parts of S. In E Africa common in SW Uganda, but scarce in E DRCongo, Rwanda, Burundi and N Tanzania; local... read more

    Recommended citation

    Tyler, S. (2019). Cape Wagtail (Motacilla capensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 7 December 2019).