Wildlife spectacle of the month: pied wagtails

Affectionately known as penny wagtails, willy wagtails and Polly wash dish, these bouncy British birds are a common feature of our urban landscapes - especially in winter. 


The sprightly black and white pied wagtail (Motacilla alba) lives up to its name by busily wagging its long, pointed tail up and down. An almost exclusively British bird and a subspecies of the European white wagtail, there are 470,000 pairs across the UK where, locally, they are known fondly as penny wagtails, willy wagtails and Polly washdish. They can be common in built up areas but are surprisingly more noticeable in winter, when they form noisy roosting flocks that can include several hundred individuals. Look for them at dusk flitting for insects drawn to the warmth of street lamps and shopping centres.
For a brief hour or so they outnumber all the other urban birds.