Grey-headed Wagtail ID

Necklaces on females

by Sindre Molværsmyr and M.G. 

It’s long been known that adult male Grey-headed Wagtails (thunbergi) can show variable dark feather across the yellow breast, on some creating something of a little necklaced effect. Females can too. Sindre reports on observations made on breeding birds in Norway, which may be useful in both spring and autumn migrants  and not just of adult males:

“Male thunbergi are usually quite simple to separate from male flava, the females on the other  hand can be a different story. Often they can look surprisingly similar. I
think that dark breast markings can be a way to distinguish some female
thunbergi from flava. At least at summer (when I have the most experience).
Have also seen dark breast markings on thunbergi migrating, so most likely
it can be used all year around. I will not claim that it is a secure ID
criteria, as I haven’t seen enough of either ssp. to do that, but it
should be looked more closely in to.”

IMG_4131Female thunbergi. Though breast centre slightly wind-blown, still dark spots also present in middle of the breast.

Male thunbergi

 Male thunbergi. Males are more variable. This one has dark marking in the breast, but dark markings more randomly placed than in females.

female thunbergi


above 2: the same female thunbergi in both photos. Old brown feathers in wing should indicate 2cy? Makes me wonder if the breast markings this bird shows are more common in 2cy birds. The bird also lacks yellow tones on flank and undertail.


Above, 3 photos of a pale female thunbergi. It’s mate is pictured below.

Gave a quite pale and brown expression in field. On photos one can see yellow tone in rump and on flanks. This one also shows some dark on breast, but more restricted than “normal” thunbergi.

male thunbergi paired to pale female above.

All photos and text above by Sindre Molværsmyr

About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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2 Responses to Grey-headed Wagtail ID

  1. Sindre and Martin. Very interesting.

    Sindre, what would be your take on an autumn juvenile showing the necklace? I sketched one (very badly) in the fields on the Old Town side of Peninnis Head on Scilly way back in 2000 or 2001.

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