I’ve had a rather entertaining fortnight. Autumn Watch may be over for another year, but something equally addictive has managed to catch my attention recently.  Every time I head out in the crisp winter air for a stroll or I layer up my jumpers, coat and scarf to walk to work, I am followed by a new-found friend. It isn’t guaranteed where i’ll bump into him, but I can assure you that at some point during my journey, this cheeky little chap will turn up to say hello.

At a mere 18 cm in length, this bouncing, flitting creature has made a real impression on me. The pied wagtail might not be a bird that you’re instantly captivated by, or one that gets all the attention, but trust me, the minute you spot your first pied wagtail, they will start popping up all over the place. As cute as a button, they hop, skip and dart along the pavements hoping to pick up a crumb or two for their supper. With such an ability to fade into any urban backdrop, you could be forgiven for almost walking over one. But, their repeated chattering song makes them easy to recognise as they bob up and down alongside you.

With their classy mixture of black and white, a pied wagtail on his own can look a little bit lost, but a group of them getting ready to find a roosting site for the evening, looks sophisticated and decadent. You could almost imagine them sitting in a city tree, each with a cocktail in its hand! It’s when they are in their groups for the evening that the real work begins. They will use this time to chat to each other (over a cheeky martini  i don’t doubt!) and exchange information. Often, birds who have been struggling to locate food and shelter, will follow the ‘healthier’ looking birds during the day to find a decent dinner.

You don’t have to be a city commuter or shopper to catch a glimpse of these energetic little creatures. They’re certainly not the fussiest of birds; farmland, coastal marshes, gardens, riverbanks, city centres, school playgrounds are all great places to spot pied wagtails and this is the time of year when they, like us, are off in search of warmth and shelter.

Don’t be surprised if you’re visited from a pied wagtail in your garden this winter. As the colder weather hits us, spare a thought for the tiny bird who might cheerfully hop into your garden looking for a snack or shelter. If you can keep your bird feeders and baths stocked up over the next few months, they will be eternally grateful. Although perhaps keep the martini for yourselves this Christmas, water will do just fine!

  • Hi Nikki,

    We do get white wagtails in the UK regularly although I don't think in huge numbers. They are the mainland European race of pied wagtail. Or pied wagtail is the UK race of white wagtail, depends which way you look at it.

    There is a picture of both races on our website www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/p/piedwagtail/

    They are fairly difficult to tell apart and the pied will look paler in winter.  Great spot nonetheless!

  • I am new to this hobby but over the last few days I have had seven wagtails in my garden.  I have got my birdwatching book out as they were not pied wagtails, it seems I have white wagtails  - is this unusual or are you going to tell me the country has millions of them!!! I live in Devon.

  • while doing some work on my allotment during this cold weather.i went into the shed and a robin came in behind me and stayed a while.it may have been the heat because i had a small parrafin heater to keep the frost at bay.anyway,i gave it some food in the form of nuts and a little spam form a sarnie.......good eh ??