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© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M. & W. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava

  • Family: Pipits and wagtails – Motacillidae
  • Appearance: Bright yellow underparts. Shape similar to other wagtails though tail not as long. Olive-brown back. Narrow yellowish or pale grey streaks on wings.
  • Size: Length 15–16 cm, weight 15–23 g.
  • Nest: Usually on a grassy hummock. Made of hay and moss, lined with hairs and a few feathers.
  • Breeding: Lays 4–7 eggs May-June. Both parents incubate, for 12–14 days. Fledglings remain in nest for 11–13 days.
  • Distribution: Nests throughout Finland near wetlands. More common in northerly regions. Finnish breeding population estimated at 500,000–750,000 pairs. Numbers have declined steeply recently, especially in Southern Finland.
  • Migration: Migrates by day. Flies south August-September, returning in April-May. Winters in tropical Africa.
  • Diet: Invertebrates.
  • Calls: A cheerful “vtsie”; song consists of a succession of such calls.
  • Endangerment: Near threatened, protected. Globally Least concern.

Yellow Wagtails differ in appearance greatly in different geographical regions, and several distinct races are found in Eurasia. These races are classified into two main groups, largely by the colouring of the males’ heads. The distributions of these races overlap in many places, and interbreeding is common resulting in hybrids. Two races breed in Finland. In Southern Finland most birds are hybrids (Motacilla flava X thunbergi). Birds of the nominal race (M. f. flava) make up a large group whose heads are mainly yellowish, and males have bright yellow eye stripes. Males of a distinct race that predominantly breeds in Northern Finland (M. f. thunbergi) have slate grey hoods and no eye stripes.

Females of the races that bred in Finland are hard to distinguish. Adult males have bright yellow underparts in their summer plumage, and their backs are greenish. Females have duller colouring, with pale yellowish underparts and greyish brown heads and upper parts. In autumn both sexes have duller colouring. Young birds have yellowish brown underparts, broad yellowish eye stripes, brownish bibs and yellowish vents. All Yellow Wagtail races have black tails with whit edges in all plumages. Their beaks and legs are black, and they have dark brown irises.

It may be difficult to distinguish the Citrine Wagtail, an occasional visitor to Finland, from the Yellow Wagtail, but in all plumages Citrine Wagtails have grey backs and two broad white stripes on their wings. Yellow Wagtails’ wing stripes are narrower and usually pale yellow or grey.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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