Family Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Least Concern

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)


French: Bergeronnette des ruisseaux German: Gebirgsstelze Spanish: Lavandera cascadeña

Motacilla Cinerea


, 1771,

no locality = Wycliffe, Yorkshire, England


Relationships uncertain. Previously thought to be most closely related to M. clara, but DNA indicates it is closer to E forms of M. flava. Variation clinal, tail length decreasing gradually from W to E, and E individuals on average darker, but differences relatively minor and much individual variation; E races melanope and robusta possibly better merged with nominate. Birds from Turkey, Caucasus and Iran sometimes treated as race caspica, but indistinguishable from nominate. Six subspecies tentatively recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. c. cinerea Tunstall, 1771 – British Is and Fennoscandia S through much of W Europe to Iberia and islands in Mediterranean Sea, NW Africa (Morocco, N Algeria), Turkey, Caucasus and N & SW Iran; winters in S parts of breeding range and in N Africa and coastal Arabia.
  • M. c. melanope Pallas, 1776 – N Asia from Ural Mts E to C coast of Sea of Okhotsk, S to NW, N & E Mongolia, E China (S to S Gansu, S Shaanxi and Hebei, exceptionally SW Guangxi)#R and Taiwan; also in mountains from Tien Shan S to E Afghanistan and E along Himalayas; winters in NE Africa and S & SE Asia.
  • M. c. robusta (C. L. Brehm, 1857) – extreme E Asia from E Russia (S & C Kamchatka and Amurland) S to Korea and Japan; winters S to Sundas and New Guinea.
  • M. c. patriciae Vaurie, 1957 – Azores (Furnas, São Miguel).
  • M. c. schmitzi Tschusi, 1900 – Madeira.
  • M. c. canariensis E. J. O. Hartert, 1901 – Canary Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    17–20 cm; male 15–22 g, female 14–20 g. Distinctive; the only long-tailed wagtail with blue-grey upperparts and yellow uppertail-coverts and underparts.... read more


    Song, in flight, a series of notes as “tzii-tz-tzi-tzi-tzee-ree-ree-ree”, ending in... read more


    Fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers with riffles and exposed rocks or shoals, often in... read more

    Food and feeding

    Prey mainly insects, notably fly larvae and adults (Diptera, especially Chironomidae) and nymphal and adult mayflies (Ephemeroptera) and... read more


    End Mar to Aug, mainly from Apr, in Europe; late Mar to May in N Africa, early Mar to Jun in Canaries, lays from from late May in Azores;... read more


    Island races and S populations resident; others partial or long-distance migrants. Nominate race... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Frequent and widespread in mountainous areas, and common in most of range. European population estimated at c. 1,000,000 pairs;... read more

    Recommended citation

    Tyler, S. (2019). Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). 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 12 December 2019).