WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)

Bergeronnette grise

The White Wagtail is found throughout the lowlands of Switzerland up to about 2000m but mostly below 1000m. Living largely on or near the ground it is fond of large flies which it catches by running about and making short leaps into the air. Clearly farms and animal pastures are interesting for this bird which is where it is usually found. But a newly cut lawn or meadow is also interesting, as is a warm roof-top in the sun where it may be seen running along the ridge tiles. As its English name implies it really does wag its tail, why is a bit of a mystery but is probably an adaptation that scares insects into moving and so makes them more visible and hence helps the Wagtail to hunt.

Vocally this is not the most fascinating bird in the world, most of its sounds are barely more than a call - often characterised as a rapid "tchi-ssik" but so rapid it is barely distinguishable as two syllables:

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Although if you look at the spectrogram the two syllables are just about separable:

Here is one bird that I recorded quite close whose call was a little slower and the spectrogram shows that it is quite a complex note which accounts for why it sounds a bit "fuzzy":

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Some authors write that they have heard a "song" where the calls I have described are spun out into a longer sound on warbles. These descriptions (that I have read !) are mostly from the UK where a different sub-species exists and it is called a Pied Wagtail, so whether this is a sub-species difference or whether I need to do more work on this rather common species I am not sure.

I have recorded a pair very close to their nest where one bird gave off a much shorter call, definitely only one syllable, which may be an anxiety call as it was well aware that I was present and interested in it - but I did not stay long so that it could get on with its own business !

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