HOW THE WAGTAIL GOT ITS NAME
The Pied Wagtail is just one of many subspecies of Motacilla alba found across its vast range. From Iceland in the north to Morocco in the south, and from Ireland in the west to Japan in the east, you will find these birds wagging their tails up and down. There are about 10 subspecies which are generally recognised, though the exact number is moot. Some authorities advocate the splitting of the different subspecies into two separate broader 'species groups', while others consider that they are all just races of the one species. The name is a straightforward one, referring to the black-and-white plumage and, of course, to the bird’s habit of constantly wagging its tail. In Britain though, it has been called other names, with the old name of Peggy Dishwasher perhaps the oddest! The Latin name Motacilla, given to it by zoologist Carl Linnaeus, originally meant ‘move about’ but many writers mistakenly thought the word ‘cilla’ meant tail and, eventually, ‘moving tail’ became the accepted (and let’s face it, accurate) meaning. The second part of the name, alba, means white, while the subspecies name for our Pied Wagtail, yarrellii, commemorates the British naturalist William Yarrell (1784-1856) who was the author of a History of British Birds, one of the first true bird guides, which for many years became a standard reference on British birds.
Spring White Wagtails can be very obvious, like this clearly pale-backed bird. Others are more subtle