You are here

Pied Wagtail

The smallest bird that actually walks; sadly now far from common than it once was.

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

The pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii) is a real trial to photograph as it just does not keep still! It is always running around, here and there, chasing this, chasing that! It is, in fact, the smallest bird that actually walks; other small birds tend to hop. You quite often see them running on tarmac or concrete (ie hard surfaces) rather than grass, I guess it is an easier surface to walk on!

The other interesting thing about this bird is that it is almost indistinguishable from the white wagtail. In fact, the British pied wagtail is a sub-species of the European white wagtail being just a little darker in colour. It takes an expert to tell the difference but apart from the odd 'white' that turns up on migration, the ones we see in Dorset are almost certainly going to be 'pied'.

In terms of a garden bird, this was once an almost certainty in many gardens but, sadly, like so many other species this is no longer the case. We never get them in the garden itself but we do see them in the road outside and, despite the abundance of food we put out it does not seem to interest these little chaps! Wagtails are basically insect eaters anyway and in winter there are very few insects in gardens.

My father always called this bird 'Polly Dishwasher', the long tail making it look like the old long handled dish washing utensil that adorned kitchens and sculleries until the 1950's.


Common Name Pied Wagtail
Scientific Name Motacilla alba yarrellii
Species Group Birds Pipits and Wagtails
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A small black/grey bird with a long tail that runs rather than hops

Identification Notes
  • Noted as being the smallest bird that walks or runs rather than hops
  • Very active little bird always running around
  • Much more likely to be seen in Dorset than the very similar white wagtail
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Pipits and Wagtails