Western Yellow Wagtail: hard to miss

Western Yellow Wagtail: hard to miss
© Pedro Marques

Western Yellow Wagtail: hard to miss

8 July 2020

This year, the Festival's poster-bird is the Western Yellow Wagtail, one of the little birds that flock to Sagres in the largest numbers in late Summer and early Autumn. This small, graceful and colourful bird does its name justice - in flight, on a fence or on the ground, it's hard to miss the bright yellow breast and underparts, and the yellowish back. Like other wagtails, the Western Yellow Wagtail also displays the typical tail-wagging motion.

Although its trademark yellow is always there, this species varies imensely from region to region. In the Iberian Peninsula, we have our own subspecies (Motacilla flava iberiae), which can be identified by its white eyebrow and throat, which contrast with the male's blue-grey head. In southern and central Europe, males also have a blue-grey head (with varying shade and shape of the throat patch), while in northern Europe the male's head is slate-coloured (dark grey), in the Balcans it's black and in the UK it is greenish, wth a yellow eyebrow.

Outside the breeding season, males' colouring is softer, similar to females and juveniles. The latter can be hard to distinguish from White Wagtail juveniles - the trick is to look for the marked eybrow, the yellow feathers at the base of the tail, and the olive-brown back.

These migratory birds are among the 1st to arrive in our country; they can be seen in the south of Portugal as early as February. Throughout Spring and Summer you'll mainly see the Iberian subspecies, which nests here. In early Autumn, it is joined by several other subspecies from northern and central Europe. Most leave Portugal at the end of October, to overwinter in Africa. But in some places, like the Tagus estuary, you can spot Western Yellow Wagtails in Winter, too. 

Typical of open, wet sites like estuaries, lagoons and flooded pastures, you can often watch Yellow Western Wagtails following cattle, to feed on the insects around it.


More about the birds of Sagres