Yellow wagtail

Yellow wagtail

©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Yellow wagtail

Scientific name: Motacilla flava
The yellow wagtail can be spotted running about, chasing insects on lowland damp marshes and meadows during summer. As its name suggests, it does wag its tail!

Species information


Length: 17cm
Wingspan: 25cm
Weight: 18g
Average lifespan: 3 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

March to September


The yellow wagtail likes damp marshes, meadows and farmland, and spends much of its time running about on the ground, chasing insects disturbed by the feet of livestock. Yellow wagtails nest on the ground or in long grass, using plants, grasses and stems to build a cup-shape which they line with fur. They can have up to two broods, each with five or six eggs. A summer visitor, they arrive from their African wintering grounds from March onwards.

How to identify

The yellow wagtail is olivey-green above and yellow below, with a yellow face and a black-and-white tail. Males are brighter than females. The similar grey wagtail also has a yellow belly, but has a grey back and black wings. Yellow wagtails have much shorter tails than the other two species of breeding wagtail in the UK.


Widespread, mostly in the lowlands of Central and Eastern England, Wales and southern Scotland.

Did you know?

Eight different subspecies of yellow wagtail can be found in Europe, differing in the colour of the males' heads. For example, in France and Germany, you will find the blue-headed wagtail; in Italy, the grey-headed wagtail; and in Finland, the ashy-headed wagtail.