Pipits and Wagtails (Motacillidae)

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) - HBW 9, p. 781

French: Bergeronnette printanière German: Schafstelze Spanish: Lavandera Boyera
Other common names: Yellow(ish)-crowned Wagtail (flavissima); Grey-headed/Dark-headed Wagtail (thunbergi); Blue-headed (Yellow) Wagtail (flava); Iberian/Spanish (Yellow) Wagtail (iberiae); Ashy-headed Wagtail (cinereocapilla); Egyptian Yellow Wagtail (pygmaea); Black-headed Wagtail (feldegg); (Eastern) Yellow-headed/Yellow-browed Wagtail (lutea); Sykes’s Wagtail (beema); White-chinned Wagtail, Turkestan Black-headed Wagtail (melanogrisea); Alaska (Yellow) Wagtail (tschutschensis); White-headed Wagtail (leucocephala); Green-crowned/Green-headed/Kuril (Yellow) Wagtail (taivana); Short-tailed Grey-headed Wagtail, Siberian (Yellow) Wagtail (simillima)

Taxonomy: Motacilla flava Linnaeus, 1758, southern Sweden.
Relationships uncertain. Has been thought to form a superspecies variously with M. citreola, or with M. capensis, or with those two together with M. flaviventris, but recent molecular-genetic studies indicate that none of these arrangements is tenable. Taxonomy complex, and much further research needed. Recent studies, using mitochondrial DNA, suggest that races may represent three separate species, one in NE (based on tschutschensis), another in extreme SE (based on taivana and macronyx), and a third in W & C (based on nominate race); moreover, t.. View all taxonomy...

Taxonomy: Motacilla flava Linnaeus, 1758, southern Sweden.
Relationships uncertain. Has been thought to form a superspecies variously with M. citreola, or with M. capensis, or with those two together with M. flaviventris, but recent molecular-genetic studies indicate that none of these arrangements is tenable. Taxonomy complex, and much further research needed. Recent studies, using mitochondrial DNA, suggest that races may represent three separate species, one in NE (based on tschutschensis), another in extreme SE (based on taivana and macronyx), and a third in W & C (based on nominate race); moreover, they also indicated that the NE group was closest to E nominate form of M. citreola and the SE group closest to W race (werae) of latter; other researchers, however, consider those two races of M. citreola to be inseparable in terms of morphology. In addition, several races (especially lutea, feldegg and taivana) have often been treated as separate species by various authors. Taxonomy is further complicated by the fact that some races are known to hybridize on fairly regular basis, thus confusing the picture with regard to distributional limits. Race plexa is perhaps indistinguishable from thunbergi; simillima possibly better included in tschutschensis, and angarensis in latter or in macronyx; and melanogrisea possibly inseparable from feldegg. Race alakulensis (from SE Kazakhstan) synonymized with thunbergi, alascensis (W Alaska) with tschutschensis, and aralensis (Aral Sea) and raddei (Transcaspia) with feldegg; proposed race zaissanensis (L Zaisan, in E Kazakhstan) is apparently an intergrade or hybrid form, and other suggested races superciliaris, dombrowskii and perconfusus similarly represent inter-racial hybrids. Pending further research, and bearing in mind above-mentioned details, all forms traditionally considered to belong in present species are treated as such and listed below. Seventeen subspecies currently recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution:

  • flavissima (Blyth, 1834) - breeds Britain and adjacent coastal Europe; winters Africa.
  • thunbergi Billberg, 1828 - breeds Scandinavia E to NW Siberia; winters mainly sub-Saharan Africa and across S & SE Asia.
  • flava Linnaeus, 1758 - breeds N & C Europe (S from S Scandinavia) E to Urals; winters sub-Saharan Africa.

     See all 17 subspecies
  • flavissima (Blyth, 1834) - breeds Britain and adjacent coastal Europe; winters Africa.
  • thunbergi Billberg, 1828 - breeds Scandinavia E to NW Siberia; winters mainly sub-Saharan Africa and across S & SE Asia.
  • flava Linnaeus, 1758 - breeds N & C Europe (S from S Scandinavia) E to Urals; winters sub-Saharan Africa.
  • iberiae Hartert, 1921 - breeds Iberia, SW France and NW Africa (S to islands of Banc d’Arguin, in Mauritania); winters W & NC Africa.
  • cinereocapilla Savi, 1831 - breeds Italy (including Sardinia and Sicily) and Slovenia; winters Mediterranean coast and CW Africa (Mali E to L Chad).
  • pygmaea (A. E. Brehm, 1854) - resident in Egypt (delta and S along R Nile).
  • feldegg Michahelles, 1830 - breeds SE Europe (former Yugoslavia E to S Ukraine), S to Turkey, E Mediterranean, Iraq, W Caspian, Iran and Afghanistan; winters Africa (mainly Nigeria E to Sudan and Uganda).
  • lutea (S. G. Gmelin, 1774) - breeds SW Russia (between lower R Volga and R Irtysh, S from Kazan’ and Perm’) and N Kazakhstan (E to L Chany and L Zaysan); winters Africa and Indian Subcontinent.
  • beema (Sykes, 1832) - breeds from upper R Volga E to SW Siberia, S to N Kazakhstan and Altai Mts, also W Himalayas (Ladakh, possibly also N Kashmir); winters mainly Indian Subcontinent, also Arabia and E Africa.
  • melanogrisea (Homeyer, 1878) - breeds Volga delta and SW Kazakhstan S to NE Iran and Afghanistan; winters mainly S Asia E to W Nepal, possibly also NE Africa.
  • plexa (Thayer & Bangs, 1914) - breeds N Siberia (R Khatanga E to R Kolyma); winters India and SE Asia.
  • tschutschensis J. F. Gmelin, 1789 - breeds NE Siberia and extreme NW North America (N & W Alaska, extreme NW Canada); winters mainly SE Asia (E to Philippines, S to Indonesia).
  • angarensis (Sushkin, 1925) - breeds S Siberia and W Transbaikalia S to N Mongolia; winters SE Asia (Myanmar and Thailand E to SE China).
  • leucocephala (Przevalski, 1887) - breeds NW Mongolia, extreme NW China (N Xinjiang) and adjacent parts of former USSR; winters probably mostly in India.
  • taivana (Swinhoe, 1863) - breeds SE Siberia, Amurland, Sakhalin and N Japan (N Hokkaido); winters Myanmar, S China and Taiwan S to Greater Sundas, Philippines and Wallacea.
  • macronyx (Stresemann, 1920) - breeds SE Transbaikalia E to Amurland and Ussuriland, S to NE Mongolia and C Manchuria; winters SE Asia S to Malay Peninsula and SE China.
  • simillima Hartert, 1905 - breeds Kamchatka, N Kurils and Commander Is, and possibly Pribilofs and Aleutian Is; winters SE Asia and Philippines S to Sundas and Wallacea, and N Australia.