Keeping & Breeding Pied Wagtails 

Keeping And Breeding Pied Wagtails

By Dave Wettner

Image description

 The Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarelli is a familiar British bird found in a variety of habitats , including towns, across the UK and is especially associated with wetland habitats, it is a sub species of the White wagtail Motacilla alba. The pied is more common in the UK and the
white across continental Europe


It's distinctive black and white plumage and constantly wagging tail make it easily recognisable. There are estimated to be over 270,000 breeding pairs in the UK (RSPB) and they can often be seen in large roosts during the winter in towns and cities.

There is a often  large roost of several hundred birds in a small tree outside my local supermarket  which under the street lighting resembles a highly decorated Christmas tree - a great sight!
Pied wagtails are reasonably well available in aviculture and make excellent aviary subjects, whilst not as colourful as some other birds their contrasting black and white plumage is very attractive and they prove to be lively and entertaining birds in captivity.

Pied wagtails are classed as softbills and are fairly well available to breeders. They are probably one of the easier British softbills to breed in captivity and as such make a good species for the beginner.

Generally it is reasonably easy to differentiate between the sexes, especially in the Spring/Summer when the birds are coming into breeding condition.

The main difference is in the cap and back: the cocks back and cap turn black and the females have a blackish cap with some more grey and a greyish back. However, this is not always fool proof as, with some other species, well coloured hens and poor coloured cocks exist.

Another confusing factor is that crosses between pied and white wagtails exist in captivity which may give paler and greyer looking cock birds!  But, generally a cock pied wagtail will develop a totally black head and back in breeding condition. They can also be sexed by the singing of the cock bird, which is a subtle and not very strident song....but one that will start to be sung by the cocks leading up to breeding
in Spring.




I keep my wagtails in flights of a 6ft x 3ft x 3ft  minimum size throughout the year. Although some people do keep their birds caged inside during the months and especially if the birds are planned to be exhibited. I'm sure they could easily be bred in smaller flights. But as with most birds the bigger the flight area the better.

Natural perches such as apple or hazel branches in the flight are ideal. The addition of some larger branches laid on the aviary floor and some clear areas on the floor will enable the birds to spend time walking around the floor of the flight. Decorating with a couple of small shrubs in tubs and possibly some climbing plants growing up the wire will help to provide cover and  attract insects into the aviary.


I prefer to use bark chippings on the aviary floor, again for the beneficial insects it will inevitably contain.

Wagtails have an affinity with water so adding a large water dish or small water feature is beneficial I feel. The birds will bathe on a regular basis and enjoy the insects a water feature attracts!


My wagtails are fed on a universal softbill mix to which I add grated broccoli
and carrot several times a week and occasionally I add some grated mild cheese.
They will also eat canary egg food mixed in with the softbill food.  I give each bird around six  meal worms every day even throughout the
winter months. The live food content of their diet is increased towards the
breeding season in April  and