Yellow Wagtail

Latin name: Motacilla flava

Family: Motacillidae

There are at least 18 different distinct races of yellow wagtail recognised across the world. The race that regularly breeds in Britain is called flavissima and apart from a small number that breed in Norway, the Netherlands and Northern France, it is virtually endemic to this country.

Yellow wagtails are only seen in the UK during the summer as it is a migratory species that spends the winter in western Africa before returning to breeding sites in the UK from mid-April onwards.

Although yellow wagtails will nest in a variety of different habitats; within the Yorkshire Dales its favoured nesting sites are hay meadows and pastures.

This species was formerly widespread across the country but a number of different surveys have shown that nationally there have been widespread population declines. Historical information suggests that yellow wagtails were once abundant in the meadows and pastures of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. A survey undertaken in 2000 located 25 pairs.

At risk?

Although there may be a number of factors driving the population decline, it is likely that changes in hay production methods and earlier hay meadow cutting dates have reduced yellow wagtail breeding success in the Yorkshire Dales.

In the key yellow wagtail areas, landowners have been encouraged to enter into agri-environment schemes to ensure that meadows are not cut until mid-July. This gives all the young birds chance to leave the nest before hay cutting begins.

The RSPB has allocated a Red conservation status to the yellow wagtail. It is also a UKBAP species and a priority species in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

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The unfolding of Grass Wood throughout the year is a story of rich fulfilment. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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