Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla flava


Yellow wagtails have much shorter tails than the other two species of breeding wagtail in the UK. Yellow wagtails like damp marshes, meadows and riverbanks and spend much of their time walking and running about on the ground chasing insects disturbed by the feet of domestic animals. They 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

Yellow wagtails are 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, a longer tail and is a bird of riverbanks rather than wet meadows.

Where to find it

Widespread in the lowlands.


When to find it

  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

How can people help

Since the 1980s the yellow wagtail has been in decline, possibly suffering up to an 80% loss in numbers. This decline is due to the loss and fragmentation of its breeding and feeding habitats caused by human activities. The Wildlife Trusts are working closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife-friendly practices. We are working towards a 'Living Landscape': a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country which are good for both wildlife and people. You can support this greener vision for the future by joining your local Wildlife Trust.

Species information

Common name
Yellow Wagtail
Latin name
Motacilla flava
Larks, sparrows, wagtails and dunnock
Length: 17cm Wingspan: 25cm Weight: 18g Average Lifespan: 3 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.