All About the African Pied Wagtail

The African pied wagtail is otherwise known as the African wagtail.

It’s a species of bird that belongs in the Motacillidae family.

What You Should Know

The African pied wagtail is located in sub-Saharan Africa. It lives among the Eastern Cape from southern Egypt to Somalia and western Eritrea. It prefers to inhabit the tropical or subtropical seasonally wet and flooded rivers, lowland grassland or freshwater marshes. Sometimes, it lives among the towns and villages where humans also reside.

This bird is an insectivore. It feeds on aerial and ground invertebrates. In areas with houses, it will scour the rooftops and pavements to find easy-to-catch insects. It’s often seen looking in car radiator grilles for stuck bugs. When food is scarce during the fall and winter, the pied wagtails will go into gardens and feed on seeds. Humans also feed the birds with bread.

What Sound Do They Make?

The African pied wagtail makes numerous sounds while in flight or calling to others. It has a unique song that people find pleasant.

Group Characteristics

The African pied wagtails will typically begin breeding before the rainy season begins. Breeding continues after the rains come and they go on for up to six months. Peak breeding time takes place between March and October. While both the female and male birds build the nest, only the female incubates the eggs. Still, both of the parents will care for the young with the average birth around four chicks.

The African pied wagtail is a monogamous bird. Together, they build a cup-shaped nest that is lined with feathers and grass. It sits close to the water and is created with intricately tangled sticks or twigs. When the pied wagtail lives among human settlements, the nests are also found on buildings. Several birds parasite the nest including the red-chested cuckoo and Diederick cuckoo. They are also prone to become the prey of larger birds.

How Many Are There?

The IUCN Red List marks the African pied wagtail as a species of Least Concern with a stable population. Its main threats come from larger predators and human interaction. The more construction and building that occurs, the less habitat the African pied wagtail has. While they have come to adjust and live among humans, it still reduces the population slightly.

Pop Culture

The African pied wagtail isn’t a common bird found in movies or TV shows. Instead, it’s a bird that is often featured in documentaries and nature publications. It’s even featured in some prominent books such as Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania by Zimmerman et al. plus the Birds of East Africa by Stevenson and Fanshawe.

Interesting Facts

The African pied wagtail has a scientific binomial of Motacilla aguimp. The Motacilla is Latin for ‘little mover’ while aguimp means ‘with a wimple’ in French. A wimple is a historic garment once worn over the head and around a women’s neck . The African pied wagtail may offer the same appearance with its black features located around the head, on the neck, and around its sides. When properly translated, this bird means a little mover that wears a wimple, which seems appropriate.

There are 14 species of wagtail, with the African pied variety only being one. Some other varieties include the Western yellow wagtail, Eastern yellow wagtail, and Cape wagtail. At one time, other birds were classified in the Motacilla family. These included the Superb fairywren and Red-whiskered bulbul. Among the species most closely related to the African pied wagtail, the Mekong wagtail appears to be most similar. They are close relatives, looking alike with their black and white appearance.