First winter Citrine Wagtail

you decide…

Have fun with this scenario. Pete Kinsella, one of the faithful birders at Seaforth, Liverpool, emailed a couple of days ago with a pic of a flava type wagtail. It had a raspy call and I agreed with Pete: looks like a “Citrine Wagtail with weak wing bars” was my first reaction. I encouraged him to try to record the call as well.  Some esp. 1st winter Black-headed Wagtails (feldegg) can have pale ear covert surrounds (as here)- but they don’t really look like his bird (which has very Citrine-like head). He went back the next day (yesterday) to try to see it and found a much easier 1st winter Citrine. That’s’ kind of why birding is so much fun. you just never know…

Here’s his pucka ‘easy’ 1st winter Citrine Wagtail (28.8.11):

and below- bird one (26.8.11.). What do you think? Looks most like a Citrine Wagtail to me, but the wing bars are so weak (and there is the interesting bird from the Netherlands in the blog post below). Another example in which I think recording the call can provide very valuable extra data.

Here’s Pete’s story:

A tale of two Wagtails

“For a few days prior to 26th August 2011 there had been a good passage of Wagtails through Seaforth NR, Merseyside. Perhaps as many as 50 Yellow Wagtails, unusual in recent years, had been seen along with many Pieds and a few White Wagtails. The presence of the White Wags made me think that some of the “Yellows” might be continental birds and I made every effort to check as many as possible for any “goodies”.

On the evening of the 26th I located a Flava-type Wagtail in flight calling, the thing was it sounded like a Citrine! Thankfully the bird dropped down just in front of me and initially I thought my ID was correct as it had a clear pale surround to it ear-coverts and white undertail coverts. However its wing-bars were too thin and weak looking for Citrine although it did have a broadly white edged inner tertial which ticked a Citrine box. I was in a quandary however , but managed to get one reasonable record shot before the bird flew off.

It was seen again the next day by another Seaforth regular who was also impressed by the head pattern but not the wing bars.

On the morning of the 28th August I again found the bird in its original location but soon lost it. I did however hear it call and confirmed my initial thoughts that it did sound like a Citrine. A few other regulars came down and just before lunchtime Gav Thomas heard a Citrine call amongst a number of Wagtails on a newly rain flooded area of the reserve. Amazingly when we saw it on the ground it was a different bird, a pristine 1st winter Citrine!

It was a textbook bird showing the broad white wing-bars and tertial fringes and the obligatory pale ear-covert surround. Interestingly though this latter feature wasn`t as pronounced as on the other bird, although still stood out. After a bit of a run around , the bird settled on the scrape alongside the main hide and was watched and well photographed during the afternoon.

Could the first bird have been a hybrid Citrine x Flava or a poorly marked Citrine or an “Eastern” type Yellow Wagtail? Surely the call must show that it has some Citrine type genes in it, as does the head pattern, but I still can`t resolve the thin wing-bars .The last few days however have been a superb learning curve, proving the value of checking through migrant Wagtail flocks.”

Pete Kinsella, Crosby, Liverpool.

and 2 more photos of the ‘easy bird’: All photos © Pete Kinsella

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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2 Responses to First winter Citrine Wagtail

  1. Paul Leader says:


    Citrine Wagtail is a scarce bird in Hong Kong, with perhaps ten individuals (often including long-staying birds) per year. As such it is bird I always have a good look at when I see one. Most first-winter Citrines I see are pretty much the same as the 28.8.11 bird (not surprisingly!), however, a small number of birds are comparable to the 26.8.11 bird (being browner and with reduced wing bars), and I see nothing wrong either with the 20 September bird.

    As you might imagine, I see lots of Eastern Yellow Wagtails (which is a very common bird in HK) of the taxa tschutschensis, taivana and macronyx. Again I spend time looking at these as they are largely easily separable in the field. I have never come across anything which I have considered a Citrine x Eastern Yellow hybrid, and would expect a wider range of plumages including a variety of ‘intermediate’ plumages if they were hybridising on a regular basis.

    In short based I don’t think Citrine Wagtail and Eastern Yellow Wagtail hybrids occur in HK, and as far as I understand, ALL records of Citrine and ‘Yellow’ Wagtail hybridisation concerns taxa now placed within Western Yellow Wagtail.

    One other thing to consider is whether some birds (especially the browner birds) might be of the southerly Citrine taxon calcarata…


    Paul Leader

    • Joost Mertens says:


      I was atended to this wagtail (26/08) by people on the Dutch birding website where I already posted my comment about this bird. I’m convinced that this bird is not a Citrine wagtail. For this species the white wingbar is not broad enough, especialy for first kalender year birds. For adult birds it might just fit, but this one is clearly a first year bird. (moult limit clearly visible in greater coverts and tertials). Also the adult type greater coverts do not have a white margin but are somwhat olive-toned (which is favourable for Yellow Wagtail). In fact the whole bird seems to have an olive tinge/shade, except for (seemingly a part of the undertail coverts).
      I would not call this brown like Paul does in the previous post. in fact a brown tinge/shade on the grey mantle would be favourable for Citrine in my opinion (lots of Citrine which I handled in Georgia, esp. first year birds, seems to have a brown tone on the back).

      Joost Mertens

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