Species of the Month – April

Each month we focus on a species that is benefiting from Fair to Nature farming. This month it’s the turn of the…

Yellow Wagtail

Yellow Wagtail - Lincs - Michael Lane - April

The Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) is not only one of the brightest stars to arrive here in the summer months following wintering in sub-Saharan Africa but it is also a species that demonstrates evolution in action as the complexities in sub-species is vast.

From blue, grey and black headed varieties scattered across the globe, they occasionally mix themselves in with the pre or post breeding flocks of “our” Yellow Wagtails of the race Flavissima. Whilst some of this race do occasionally breed in Norway, France, Germany and the Netherlands, it is largely constrained as a breeder to the UK and perhaps considered by some as the only English near-endemic bird sub-species.

Yellow Wagtail - S Tonkin - AprilThis yellow sprite can be found breeding largely in arable crops but also lowland pastures, water meadows, marshes and riversides. Concentrations of this species occur in the Fens, Coastal Essex, North Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent, although in ever declining numbers. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) estimates a decline of 43% between 1995 and 2012, putting them on the Red List of conservation concern. Researchers suggest that changes in agricultural practices are to blame for some of this decline.

Birds arrive back on our shores largely between the middle to the end of March with nesting sites being taken up in early to mid-April or May. They nest in a variety of habitats such as arable farmland, hay meadows and wetlands. They are often found around livestock and feed on invertebrates. By August or September they again leave our shores all to soon on a perilous journey through France and Spain into Africa. Some birds will maybe stop off in Northern Africa but the majority continue across the Sahara into Senegal, Gambia and Mali and as far South as Liberia or even the Ivory Coast.

In fact our Team Peanut have been working on peanut farms in the West Africa, where Yellow Wagtails spend the winter, to see how habitats can be provided for them and other wildlife from the farms becoming Fair to Nature. Whilst in Spain, Portugal and the UK, Fair to Nature farms are putting insect rich and safe nesting habitats in timely place for their return. We are very privileged to have these sunny little birds visiting the feeders outside our office window!

Yellow Wagtail - Species of the Month April

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