Family Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Least Concern

Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)


French: Bergeronnette printanière German: Schafstelze Spanish: Lavandera boyera
Other common names: Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava


, 1758,

southern Sweden


Taxonomy complex, and much further research needed. Several races (especially lutea and feldegg) have often been treated as separate species by various authors. Taxonomy further complicated by fact that some races are known to hybridize fairly regularly, thereby confusing distributional limits. Arrangement here accepts separation of M. tschutschensis (see that species). Race melanogrisea possibly inseparable from feldegg#R. Race alakulensis (from SE Kazakhstan) synonymized with thunbergi, and aralensis (Aral Sea) and raddei (Transcaspia) with feldegg; proposed race zaissanensis (L Zaisan, in E Kazakhstan) is apparently an intergrade or hybrid form (sometimes subsumed within race angarensis of M. tschutschensis)#R, and other suggested races superciliaris, dombrowskii and perconfusus similarly represent inter-racial hybrids. Eleven subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. f. thunbergi Billberg, 1828 – Grey-headed Wagtail – Scandinavia E to NW Siberia; winters mainly sub-Saharan Africa and across S & SE Asia.
  • M. f. flavissima (Blyth, 1834) – British Yellow Wagtail – Britain and adjacent coastal Europe; winters Africa.
  • M. f. flava Linnaeus, 1758 – Blue-headed Wagtail – N & C Europe (S from S Scandinavia) E to Urals; winters sub-Saharan Africa.
  • M. f. beema (Sykes, 1832) – from upper R Volga E to SW Siberia, S to N Kazakhstan and Altai Mts; winters mainly Indian Subcontinent, also Arabia and E Africa.
  • M. f. lutea (S. G. Gmelin, 1774) – Yellow-headed Wagtail – SW Russia (between lower R Volga and R Irtysh, S from Kazan and Perm) and N Kazakhstan (E to L Chany and L Zaysan); winters Africa and Indian Subcontinent.
  • M. f. feldegg Michahelles, 1830 – Black-headed Wagtail – SE Europe (Balkans E to S Ukraine), S to Turkey, E Mediterranean, Arabian Peninsula, W Caspian, Iran and N Afghanistan; winters Africa (mainly Nigeria E to Sudan and Uganda).
  • M. f. melanogrisea (Homeyer, 1878) – Volga Delta and SW Kazakhstan S to NE Iran and Afghanistan; winters mainly S Asia E to W Nepal, possibly also NE Africa.
  • M. f. leucocephala (Przevalski, 1887) – White-headed Wagtail – NW Mongolia, extreme NW China (N Xinjiang) and adjacent parts of former USSR; winters probably mostly in India.
  • M. f. iberiae E. J. O. Hartert, 1921 – Iberian Yellow Wagtail – Iberia, SW France and NW Africa (S to islands of Banc d’Arguin, in Mauritania); winters W & NC Africa.
  • M. f. cinereocapilla Savi, 1831 – Ashy-headed Wagtail – Italy (including Sardinia and Sicily) and Slovenia; winters Mediterranean coast and CW Africa (Mali E to L Chad).
  • M. f. pygmaea (A. E. Brehm, 1854) – resident in Egypt (delta and S along R Nile).
  • Descriptive notes

    16·5 cm; male 12·3–26·4 g, female 11·2–22·6 g, much variation with season, time of day and locality. Male nominate race in... read more


    Song, from perch (often bush or fence post) or in flight, a very brief trill or twitter of 2–... read more


    Variety of damp or wet habitats with low vegetation, from damp meadows, marshes, waterside pastures... read more

    Food and feeding

    Diet includes wide variety of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates; also some plant material, especially seeds. Invertebrates range from... read more


    Season Apr–Aug, varying with latitude; 1–2 broods. Monogamous; solitary, territorial breeder. Nest, built mainly by female, a... read more


    Almost wholly migratory; resident in Egypt (pygmaea), probably at least partially so also... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Locally common to very common; uncommon in some regions, and status of some races uncertain. Estimated European population over 7,000... read more

    Recommended citation

    Tyler, S. & Christie, D.A. (2020). Western Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava). 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 25 February 2020).