Wag­ging won­ders

Lancashire Life - - Great Outdoors -

Wag­tails are one of our most colour­ful species of bird and are a common sight if you wan­der out into the coun­try­side, but Lan­cashire

Wildlife Trust’s Alan Wright finds them in un­ex­pected places too

One of my favourite places in win­ter is out­side Next at Robin Park in Wi­gan. Here, in a tree you will find up to 500 pied wag­tails. Un­til I dis­cov­ered this flock, warm­ing it­self on the neon lights of the cloth­ing store, I had only seen pairs or sin­gle pied wag­tails walk­ing jaun­tily along the ground, tails wag­ging (as per their name) or fly­ing in swoops, up and down through the air.

Th­ese gor­geous birds are a mix­ture of black and white. In sum­mer, males have a white fore­head, cheeks and belly with a black man­tle, head, throat and breast and a grey back. But, now in the colder months, they get darker and their throat feath­ers turn white. Fe­males tend to be darker in colour.

Pied wag­tails eat in­sects, but will feed on seeds and scav­enge through rub­bish in win­ter. They flock to­gether at warm roost sites like reedbeds and sewage works or trees and bushes in city and town cen­tres, as at the shop­ping cen­tre.

In sum­mer, they de­fend breed­ing ter­ri­to­ries and will nest in ivy, un­der roofs, in walls, between stones… in many dif­fer­ent places.

Pied wag­tails tend to live for two years on av­er­age, but the max­i­mum recorded age was 11 years and three months.

The last grey wag­tail I saw was in a stream be­hind the lovely St

Mary’s Church, in El­len­brook, Salford. It bobbed along the stream, stop­ping on a stone to wag its tail, be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing un­der a small bridge.

It was an un­ex­pected sight as grey wag­tails are more recog­nised as breed­ing birds of fast-flow­ing up­land rivers. They do move down­hill in win­ter and can be found in towns and cities.

The rock­ing, wag­ging of the tail is in uni­son with the bab­bling of the brooks, be­low their perch on rocks above the water.

Grey wag­tails eat ants and midges they find be­side rivers, and snails and tad­poles from shal­low water. They nest near the water in hol­lows and crevices lined with moss and twigs.

The grey wag­tail has a long, black-and-white tail, a yel­low rump and a yel­low belly. It is grey above with black wings. Males have a grey face with a black throat bib and a white mous­tache.

In re­cent years the grey wag­tail is re­ported to have ex­tended its ter­ri­tory as ur­ban rivers have be­come less and less pol­luted.

Our other wag­tail, the yel­low wag­tail isn’t around at this time of year, spend­ing win­ter in warmer places, like Africa. Yel­low wag­tails have a yel­low face and un­der­parts with olive wings, so they are not dif­fi­cult to recog­nise if you see one.

I had an en­counter with this bird on Lit­tle Woolden Moss, near Cadishead, on a bright sunny day.

Al­though, their tails are shorter than their two cousins, they are just as waggy. They in­habit damp marshes and mead­ows, and feed on in­sects dis­turbed by live­stock. They nest in long grass, build­ing a cup-shaped, fur-lined nest.

So, this win­ter keep an eye out for our two species of wag­tails, and look for­ward to the yel­low wag­tail’s re­turn in spring.

Grey wag­tails can of­ten be seen be­side rivers

A ju­ve­nile pied wag­tail

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