Wagtail is a tiny songbird, at first glance, so fragile and defenseless. But who would have thought that its various species have different plumage, some even very bright. Let's try to describe all the main features of this bird, describing not only its appearance, but also habits, character and habitats.
Origin of the species and description
Wagtails are songbirds belonging to the bird family of the same name, the Wagtails and the order Passeriformes. This family of birds can be called small, but very common throughout the globe, excluding the Pacific islands and Antarctica. There are about 60 species of birds in the wagtail family, divided into five to six genera.
Scientists put forward the assumption that the very first wagtail relatives began to live on Earth in the Miocene era, and this is from 26 to 7 million years ago. At that time, there was a reduction in forests on the planet, more open spaces appeared, overgrown with small shrubs and grasses, which Wagtails began to inhabit.
It is not difficult to guess why the bird is so named, because it literally constantly “shakes its tail”. The rear tail part of the bird's body is called the tail, and the wagtail, when moving on the ground, tirelessly and dynamically shakes its thin and long tail, looking for food.
Interesting fact: The wagtail is the national symbol of Latvia. And back in 2011, the Bird Conservation Union of the Russian Federation also chose it as a symbol of that year.
There is a sign among the people that promises good luck and prosperity to the one on whose roof the house is settled graceful wagtail. Let's describe some varieties of wagtails in order to have an idea of how they look and how they differ from each other.
The white wagtail has a body length of 15 to 19 cm and a weight of about 24 grams. The back is painted gray, and the abdomen is solemnly white. On a white head, a contrasting black cap and a bib of the same color are clearly visible. The tail, as is typical of the species, is thin and long.
The yellow wagtail is the smallest of all wagtails, its body length reaches 15 cm, and its weight does not exceed 18 grams. This is a graceful bird with a long tail. The back has a gray-green or brownish color. Wings – ocher with brown patches. The tail is dark brown with visible white feathers. Feathered legs are painted black. The most important difference of this variety is the extravagant lemon-colored plumage on the abdomen and breast in males, while in females the yellow tint is paler. There is no brightness in the coloring of the chicks, but brown and gray tones predominate.
Mountain Wagtail weighs about 17 grams, and its length varies from 17 to 20 cm. The ridge of the bird is painted in gray tones, the center of the abdomen is yellow, and the sides are white. The tail, like the rest, is thin and extended. There is a black collar on the neck, which distinguishes this species from the previous wagtail.
The yellow-headed wagtail weighs about 19 grams, and grows up to 17 cm in length. It is similar in appearance to the yellow wagtail, but a bright lemon hue is on the head. The color of the abdomen is either pale yellow or gray.
The black-headed wagtail has a mass of 15 to 18 grams, a bird's wingspan reaches 20 cm, and a tail length of about 8 cm. The head and neck are painted black, the top of the bird is grayish-yellow with green glimpses, and the color on the belly is bright yellow or completely white. Brown wings are decorated with white and yellow streaks. In young animals, brown shades with black patches prevail in color.
The piebald wagtail has a solemn black and white outfit. The length of her body is about 20 cm, and her weight is about 27 grams. The dorsal part is black, wide white eyebrows are visible above the eyes, the throat is also white. There is a black cap on the crown, the main tone of the abdomen and wings is white.
Appearance and features
Having described the characteristic features of individual varieties of wagtails, it is worth moving on to the general features of wagtails that distinguish them from other birds. In general, wagtails are medium-sized graceful birds, the length of the body of which is in the range from 12 to 22 cm, and the mass does not go beyond 30 grams. Wagtails, like real models, are very slender and long-legged, have a neat rounded head. The neck of the birds is short, and the thin beak resembles a sharp awl, the beak of which is slightly curved.
The wagtail's dynamic tail is long and slender, consisting of a dozen tail feathers. Looking at it from the side, it is noticeable that it is cut straight, and the two middle feathers are slightly longer than the side ones. The very first of the flight feathers is much shorter than the second and third. The bird's limbs are covered with small scales, and the paws are equipped with rather tenacious fingers with sharp claws. On the back finger, the claw is hook-shaped.
This allows you to keep well on the branches. Bird eyes resemble small, round, black beads. It has been observed that the posture of these little birds is quite squat when they are on the ground, but it straightens out as soon as the wagtail sits on the branches of bushes and grass stems.
Where does the wagtail live ?
As already noted, the area of distribution of wagtails is very extensive. Scientists distinguish approximately 15 varieties of these birds that live in Asia, Europe and even on the African mainland.
On the territory of the former CIS, you can meet five bird varieties:
In central Russia, you can most often meet the white wagtail, which is familiar to many.
Interesting fact: It is believed that wagtails come from Eastern Siberia and Mongolia, it was from these places that they spread throughout the territories Africa and Europe.
Speaking specifically about the habitats of these birds, they are different for different species. The white wagtail occupied Europe, the northern part of the African continent, Asia, Alaska. Where the climate is warm, it is sedentary, and from more northern regions it flies to spend the winter in Africa. The mountain wagtail has chosen Eurasia and northern Africa, it is considered migratory. The yellow wagtail also inhabits Eurasia, Alaska, the northern regions of Africa, and the territory of the North American mainland. The yellow-headed wagtail has inhabited the Siberian tundra, and moves to South Asia for the winter.
It is not difficult to guess that the Madagascar bird lives on this island of the same name. The piebald wagtail lives exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa. The black-headed migratory wagtail inhabited the spaces of Asia and Europe. The long-tailed wagtail also registered in the vastness of the hot African continent.
For living, wagtails prefer open places near all kinds of water bodies. These birds avoid dense forests; they are also rarely found in open forest areas. Only the tree wagtail can be considered an exception, it nests in the forest and lives in southeast Asia.
Wagtails choose a variety of regions and landscapes for their habitat, settling:
- on the coasts of rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands;
- in open spaces of wet meadows;
- in the territories of tropical and subtropical mountain forests;
- in the expanses of the Siberian tundra;
- in a mountainous area at an altitude of about 3 km;
- not far from human dwellings.
Now you know where this songbird lives. Let's see what the wagtail eats.
What does the wagtail eat?
All wagtails can be safely called insectivores.
Feathers snack on:
- small crustaceans;
- plant seeds and small berries.
Appearing in a new territory, the wagtail noisily and loudly signals this, checking whether the land plot has an owner. If there is one, then the bird retreats without entering into a confrontation. In the event that no one is announced, the feathered one begins to search for food. The bird regularly inspects its isolated area in order to search for insects, and drives uninvited relatives away if there are not so many insects in this area. When food is in abundance, wagtails are not averse to hunting collectively.
Sometimes the bird catches its snack right on the fly, but most often it hunts on the ground, moving dexterously and quickly and shaking its refined tail. The wagtail meal looks very interesting, first of all, the bird alternately tears off the wings of the prey (if any), and then immediately eats it.
Interesting fact: Miniature wagtails bring invaluable benefits to domestic cattle , they often visit pastures, where they feed on horseflies and other blood-sucking reptiles that overpower cattle directly from cow backs. life
Most of the wagtails are migratory , but this is determined by the habitat of each particular population. All birds, whose range is located to the north, tend to move to Asia, Southern Europe and Africa for the winter. Species that are endemic to the African continent and Madagascar are classified as sedentary.
All wagtails are very mobile and restless, have briskness and swiftness. At rest, they can only be seen during the performance of singing roulades. Then even their dynamic tail stops wiggling. The bird's melody is very perky and simple, it is an alternation of chirping and a low squeak.
Often, many wagtails gather near all kinds of water bodies in small flocks or families. Some equip their nests on the surface of the earth, others – in secluded hollows. These little birds have a bold disposition. Having seen the ill-wisher, they flock from all around and begin the collective pursuit of the enemy, shouting very loudly and incessantly. This call warns other birds of a threat. Swallows often cluster together with wagtails.
Migratory wagtails rush south from the very beginning until late autumn. Birds form not very numerous flocks, they try to move along the reservoirs at night and in the wee hours. In early spring, they return to their native expanses.
Interesting fact: The people called the wagtail “icebreaker”, because. it comes from the south during the spring ice drift.
The fact that it is time to prepare for departure is signaled to birds by their own hormones produced by the pituitary gland. The length of daylight also affects the migratory behavior of birds. Each mature wagtail has a separate land plot where it seeks food. If the food base becomes too scarce, then the bird looks for a new place.
People consider the wagtail to be very useful, because it famously cracks down on all kinds of pests that cause a lot of inconvenience to humans, cattle and damage to cultivated land. The wagtail is very trusting of people, therefore it often settles near their dwellings. In general, this bird is very sweet, peaceful and does not differ in aggressiveness, it has a completely good-natured character.
Interesting fact: Usually all small birds move on the surface of the earth, making jumps, but this is not typical for the wagtail, it moves by running, doing it quickly, so it seems that it is riding on small wheels.
Social structure and reproduction
As already noted, wagtails prefer to live in small flocks or separate families, and their wedding season begins in the spring, about a month after arriving from warm lands. During this period, the outfit of gentlemen becomes more catchy, rich and bright, all this is necessary to attract a partner. To impress the young lady, the male bows, dances in a squat, spreads his tail like a fan, walks in circles near the female, spreading his wings to the side.
The next important step is the construction of the nest. To do this, the birds together collect twigs, moss, roots, all kinds of shoots. The nest is usually cone-shaped and is always close to a water source.
Bird dens can be found anywhere:
- in wall crevices;
- small earthen pits;
- rocky crevices;
- under the roofs of houses;
- between the roots of trees.
Interesting fact: The nest of the wagtail is very loose and often lined inside with woolen shreds of animals and hair.
The process of laying eggs occurs at the beginning of May, usually there are from 4 to 8 eggs in a clutch. After about a couple of weeks, babies begin to hatch, which are completely helpless. All this period of incubation, the future father feeds the female and guards the nest. After the birth of the chicks, both caring parents rush in search of their food. Eggshell birds are carried away from the nesting site so as not to attract predators. At two weeks of age, the chicks fledge and prepare for their first flights. Gradually, they leave their native nesting place, but almost until the very autumn they gain experience from their parents, only then they begin a completely independent life.
In one summer, wagtails manage to make a couple of clutches. The plumage of babies has gray, yellowish or black and white shades. Kids learn to fly under the careful supervision of their parents, and in the fall they go to warm countries. In the wild, wagtails live for about ten years, and in captivity they can live up to twelve.
Wagtails' natural enemies
It is not surprising that the small, fragile, graceful wagtail has many enemies who are not averse to feasting on this songbird. Among predatory animals one can name weasels, martens, stray feral cats, as well as domestic ones. Wagtails living within the boundaries of human settlements often suffer from them. They are made on a tiny wagtail and aerial attacks, because many raptors can eat this bird with pleasure, they can include crows, cuckoos, hawks, kites, owls. Owls pose the greatest danger when wagtails move at night during their seasonal migration.
I must say that these birds are quite brave. Feeling threatened, the wagtails flock together and begin to drive the enemy away, emitting a strong deafening hubbub, which also serves as a warning to other birds. This technique often turns out to be effective, and the frightened ill-wisher retreats. So, because of their small size, in times of danger, birds have to unite and act together.
Sometimes people, without realizing it, can harm wagtails. It happens like this: when the chicks grow up, they begin to get out of the nest and sit next to it, and passers-by, who notice this, pick up the babies, thinking that they fell out or got sick. It is absolutely impossible to do this, because defenseless crumbs die from this. Humans also influence birds through their activities, which often lead to a reduction in the permanent habitats of these birds.
Population and species status
The distribution area of wagtails is very extensive; these birds are widely settled throughout the world. It should be noted that most wagtail species are not vulnerable or endangered. The status of their population says that these birds cause the least concern regarding their numbers, their population remains stable, there are no sharp drops or rises, which is good news.
Still, there are certain species of wagtails, the number of which has recently decreased, and they cause concern among environmental organizations. The negative factors influencing the bird population are, first of all, anthropogenic. Humans frequently invade wagtail habitats, causing disturbed wagtails to stop nesting.
Man occupies more and more territories for his own needs, displacing birds from their habitual habitable places. The sprawl of cities, the laying of highways reduce the area of meadows where wagtails like to live, and this leads to the fact that their population is steadily declining. Every spring, people begin to burn last year's dead wood, which leads to the death of many insects that feed on wagtails, their food supply is depleted, and the birds have to look for new habitats, which also negatively affects the number of birds that need protection.
As already noted, some varieties of wagtails are becoming very rare, they require special conservation measures so that the birds do not completely disappear from their usual habitats. These species include the yellow wagtail, which loves to settle in meadows. Very few of these birds remain on the territory of the Moscow Region, therefore, since 2001, they have been listed in the Red Book of Moscow as a species vulnerable in this territory.
The reason for the decline in the number of this wagtail, in the first place, is the reduction of meadow areas as a result of human activity, or their overgrowth with weeds and shrubs. When the meadow area becomes less than two hectares, wagtails stop building nests and reproducing offspring. The growth of roads and all kinds of hiking trails in the nesting area has a very negative effect on the wagtail, which leads to concern for the birds. Spring fires also have a negative impact on the food base of birds. In addition to the yellow wagtail, vulnerable species include arboreal and long-tailed, their numbers also cause concern.
Protection measures to save wagtails include the following:
- introducing the identified nesting sites;
- restoration of meadow areas;
- improvement of the ecological situation in nesting sites;
- annual mowing of meadows to prevent their overgrowth with shrubs and tall grass;
- increasing fines for burning deadwood;
- explanatory work among the population.
In conclusion, I would like to add that the tiny wagtail brings tangible benefits to fields, gardens, livestock , people, because it eats a myriad of various insects. I would like a person to treat this amazing bird with care, trying not to harm, then she will not need special protective measures.