The Grey Wagtails By The Riverside 1

One bird that captures my imagination when I am out on a walk is the Grey Wagtail. As I sit by a river, taking a lunch break it is always a joy to see them, being busy as they are, on and around the water.

On a recent walk around Rydal Water I did my wander off track thing and found a spot by the riverside, well away from paths and well away from the crowds.

The only noise was the water gently flowing down stream and the odd bird. And the birds that joined in this bliss, across the other side of the river, the gorgeous Grey Wagtails.

grey wagtail on a rock

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The Name

They are called Grey Wagtails but although that colour ‘in the name’ sounds drab, they do have that bright lemon yellow on their breast and under their tail.

The wagtail part comes from the same as any wagtail species. That constant wagging of the long tail that you see as they move about.

close up grey wagtail

Difference Between Grey and Yellow Wagtail

It is easy at times to confuse a grey wagtail with a yellow wagtail. The main difference is the amount of yellow. They yellow wagtail has a more overall yellow appearance. The grey wagtail has that predominantly grey back, with the yellow restricted more to underneath, as you can see in these photos.

Take a look at their legs too. If they are a pinkish/fleshy colour they are likely a grey wagtail as the yellow wagtail tends to have more black coloured legs.

Another way to tell is where I was at they time. The grey wagtails are often found feeding in rivers and streams whereas the yellow wagtail is found more on grasslands and moorlands.

The Grey Wagtail has as a longer tail than a yellow and also the pied wagtail.

The Grey Wagtail bird near the water

Difference Between A Male And Female Grey Wagtail

I also noticed these two grey Wagtails that joined me here by this river were females. I could tell as they did not have the black bib line on the throat area.

female grey wagtail with food

What Do They Feed On?

As I have said already the grey wagtail is so often found more by rivers and streams. The water and beside the water is the means for its food source.

They love ants, midges, insects, snails and tadpoles. All things that they find by fast running waterways.

You will not see them on bird feeders or in gardens so much as they are not fans of nuts and seeds like other birds. Plus they feed off the ground not up high.

If you think you can tempt them in the garden, or you know you have grey wagtails nearby, then you could try some mealworms on the ground. I wouldn’t bother unless you have a stream right by the garden though.

little grey wagtail

Always Busy

As I sat there they hopped, ran and jumped constantly in the shallow water. Never stopping, always looking down for the next little tasty morsel. Any insect, midge or tadpole they found was easily pounced upon.

grey wagtail from behind

Their tails wagging constantly. Wagtails are real busy body birds. It is really hard to catch them in photos they are so much on the go.

grey wagtail by the river on a stone

If you are patient and still by the water they will soon get braver and braver in your presence and go about their busy lives without as much care.

grey wagtail eating from the river


Alas it was time to go. Back to the noise of civilisation for myself. Seeing these grey wagtails though was a great reminder to spend more time relaxing and especially to take time to stop and look around at the finer things in nature.

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