There is something very hypnotic about watching one of the 11 species of wagtail. These slender, energetic, and often colourful birds are constantly wagging their long tail; the trait from which they get their common name. The reason for this behaviour is not clearly understood, but could be for communicating with each other or to warn off potential predators.
Species familiar to us in the UK, such as the yellow, grey and pied wagtails, are also widespread throughout much of Europe, Asia and north Africa. Other species can have a more restricted range, for example, the endemic Madagascan wagtail, as its name suggests, can only be found on the African island of Madagascar.
Scientific name: Motacilla
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Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
The wagtails form the passerine bird genus Motacilla. They are small birds with long tails which they wag frequently. Motacilla, the root of the family and genus name, means moving tail. The Forest Wagtail belongs to the monotypic genus Dendronanthus which is closely related to Motacilla and sometimes included herein.
The Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) of Australia is an unrelated bird similar in colouration and shape to the Japanese Wagtail. It belongs to the fantail flycatchers.