Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Wagtails -

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

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