Friday, July 9, 2021

Yellow Or Grey

Here’s a new header, the one that caused all the Blogger problems.  This new header will provoke comments and questions to rival why Blogger once again changed things that work to something that doesn't make sense.

How do I know there will be comments? The answer is that a post on Another Bird Blog entitled “Grey Or Yellow” of August 21 2016 has to date gathered an amazing 10,095 views, easily the most viewed post.

The search terms “grey wagtail” or “yellow wagtail” crop up on a very regular basis whereby Google directs the user to a number of sites, web places that include Another Bird Blog.      

So for today, and while I try to resolve the header problem, I hope to answer again the question “When is a grey wagtail not a Grey Wagtail but a Yellow Wagtail”?

It’s a subject that cropped up at Another Bird Blog when a reader suggested via a comment that my image of a Yellow Wagtail was in fact a Grey Wagtail.  The photograph is the one below. 

Yellow Wagtail

The species under discussion are two closely related ones, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea

The images below are pages from the The Crossley Guide that show not only the plumage differences between the two wagtails but also the different habitats and situations in which each is usually found. I’m sure that at most times of the year almost everyone can identify the adults of both species as they are really quite different in appearance.

Grey Wagtail - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 a/3.0)] via Wikimedia Commons 

 Yellow Wagtail Yellow Wagtail - Richard Crossley (The Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland) [CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Yellow Wagtail, male or female, is an overall shade of yellow, whereas the Grey Wagtail while having parts of striking yellow plumage in both male and female, is an overall grey colour above.  No problem there then. 

 Yellow Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Less practiced bird watchers may experience confusion and misperception when dealing with autumnal “grey” Yellow Wagtails such as the one in my picture at the top of this post, a very pale and quite fresh Yellow Wagtail in its first autumn plumage during September. At this time of year juvenile Yellow Wagtails are greyish/brown/olive above and buff whitish below, with a partly yellow belly and yellow under tail. Rather than the bright yellow and immaculate males of some field guides, autumn encounters of both species usually involve less bright and slightly worn plumaged adults of either sex, or duller juveniles. 

My pictures below show the typical dark, almost black legs of a Yellow Wagtail and not the flesh coloured legs of a Grey Wagtail. The Yellow Wagtail has clearly defined wing bars as formed by the pale covert feathers. By comparison a Grey Wagtail of any age always displays slate grey wing feathers together with narrowly edged greyish coverts rather than the much whiter ones in the wing of a Yellow Wagtail.

Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail
Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Grey Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail

A feature that is less obvious unless the two species are side by side is that the Grey Wagtail has a very long white edged tail whereas a Yellow Wagtail has a shorter tail. This is a useful separation tool in the field when the long tail of a Grey Wagtail “bobs” and “pumps” almost incessantly as opposed to the less mobile and much shorter tail of the Yellow Wagtail. A Yellow Wagtail has a demeanour rather like a pipit, often standing taller than the similarly sized Grey Wagtail that can appear quite "crouching". 

Another separation in the field is the differing calls of the two species. The Yellow Wagtail has a sweet “tsee” or “schlee” or a louder “suree”. The call of Grey Wagtail is totally different with an explosive, metallic “zi-zi” or “tsvit”

Below is a great video from the BTO which not only sets out the difference between Yellow and Grey Wagtails, but for good measure also includes the Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba, yet another “grey” wagtail.

I hope this post has been helpful to anyone unsure about separating Yellow Wagtails and Grey Wagtails, or even grey wagtails.

And for anyone looking for a top quality field guide to the birds of Great Britain and Ireland I recommend the following three books:
That's all for now. Back soon with Another Bird Blog.  I hope to fix the half a header problem soon, perhaps via Blogger or through a helpful and HTML knowledgeable reader.

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Lowcarb team member said...

When visiting other blogs, it seems that many have experienced problems when they have put new header photographs up, I hope someone may be able to offer advice.
Beautiful photographs on your post.
Happy weekend wishes.

All the best Jan

eileeninmd said...

Hello Phil,
I loved all your bird photos and the header. The Yellow Wagtail and the Grey Wagtail are confusing, except for the adult Yellow Wagtail. They are both beautiful birds. Great post.
Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, enjoy your weekend! PS, thank you for your comments on all past visits.

Shiju Sugunan said...

Both visit Bangalore. I will recheck my previous blog posts to see if I've identified them correctly. Thanks for the cues.

This week's post

Rain said...

Hi Phil :) Oh nasty blogger...I hope you get the issue solved soon. I think 3 other of my blogging friends have the same problem. I'm not touching my header ever again!! The bird photos are spectacular. I've never seen those birds around here!

Linda said...

Great shots! I know nothing about wagtails.

Anni said...

So many bloggers are having header problems. I guess they change things to justify their jobs. But it sure outs a hipper-dipper to blog interface & design.

Enjoyed the detailed differences you exposed for us today.

Have a great week ahead and thanks for taking time to link in at IRBB so we can visit!

Betty J. Crow said...

It sure seems like the yellow wagtail should be a gray wagtail and vice-versa. :) They sure are beautiful. Thanks for the explaination.

Germán Ibarra Zorrilla said...

Un reportaje espectacular de las lavanderas, enhorabuena Phil. Un abrazo desde el norte de España.

Rhodesia said...

Thanks for this post, Yellow or Grey wagtails I find so difficult this is a big help. Thank goodness the pied is not so complicated! Well done.

Have a good week and stay safe. Diane

Wally Jones said...

This! This is what birding is all about!

Subtle differences at particular times of the year help to separate some species. It's like being a detective and attempting to solve a mystery by using all available clues.

Then, when one becomes a Master Detective, such as yourself, sharing your knowledge and techniques with us Junior Detectives is a special treat!

I have really become a fan of Mr. Crossley and his approach to field guides. Extremely helpful.

If blog header issues are your current greatest worry in life, you are doing quite well, indeed.

Here at Rebel Headquarters we are enjoying high temperatures coupled with high humidity, daily thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane drifting by. Just another day in Paradise!

Take care, remain sufficiently caffeinated at all times and ring responsibly.

My Personal Queen waves a Transatlantic "Hello Phil".

NCSue said...

The wagtails remind me somewhat of our mockingbirds. I wonder if they are in the same family?
Thanks for sharing at

Fun60 said...

Loved the photos and explanations. I wouldn't ever try to correct your identifications. Who was that fool?

Klara said...

they are both beautiful.

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