Photo: Doug Wechsler/Vireo

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Motacilla tschutschensis

This Asian species is common over much of western and northern Alaska in summer, nesting around scrub willow thickets on the tundra. If a birder intrudes on their nesting territory, a pair of Yellow Wagtails will often hover overhead, repeatedly calling in shrill voices.
Conservation status Alaskan population seems to be doing well.
Family Wagtails and Pipits
Habitat Willow scrub on tundra, marshy country. In Alaska, breeds on tundra, especially in areas with low thickets of dwarf willow or birch. In the Old World, various races of Yellow Wagtail are found in practically any kind of open country.
This Asian species is common over much of western and northern Alaska in summer, nesting around scrub willow thickets on the tundra. If a birder intrudes on their nesting territory, a pair of Yellow Wagtails will often hover overhead, repeatedly calling in shrill voices.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male,breeding
  • adult female
  • immature (1st winter)
Feeding Behavior

Feeds on ground or along edge of very shallow water. Forages by walking and picking up items, by making quick dashes to grab active insects, or by flying up to catch insects in the air. Sometimes may pick insects from foliage while hovering.


Eggs

In Alaska, 4-5 eggs, sometimes 3-6. Whitish to buff, heavily dotted with brown. Incubation is by both parents (but female may do more), 11-13 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-13 days after hatching, but often unable to fly for another 3-6 days.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-13 days after hatching, but often unable to fly for another 3-6 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. Diet in North America not known in detail. In Eurasia, feeds on a wide variety of insects including midges and other flies, beetles, aphids, ants, and many others. Also eats spiders, plus a few small snails, worms, berries, and seeds.


Nesting

Male may sing in flight to defend territory and attract a mate. In courtship on ground, male may crouch with drooped wings and tail, body feathers fluffed up, while he runs around female; also may hover over her with tail spread widely. Nest site is on ground, usually well hidden under low matted shrub or overhanging grass, or tucked into side of sedge hummock. Nest (probably built by female only) is a cup of grass, leaves, weeds, moss, lichens, lined with softer material such as animal hair or feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

In Alaska, mostly arrives in late May and departs in August. Birds from Alaska probably winter mostly in the Australasian region.

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Migration

In Alaska, mostly arrives in late May and departs in August. Birds from Alaska probably winter mostly in the Australasian region.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rarely sings, but often utters a call: tsweep. Alarm note sounds like ple-ple-ple.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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