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THE YELLOW WAGTAIL.
T) Y many authors the Yellow Wagtails have been separated from the Pied Wagtails under the generic term Budytes, proposed by Cuvier, not only in consequence of their very different colouration, but also on account of their possessing a longer and more strongly-developed hind claw. The numerous intermediate forms, however, which the researches of modern naturalists have brought to light from various parts of the Old World, have rendered this subdivision less necessary or desirable than it may originally have appeared to be. In outward form, internal structure, and habits, they are all Wagtails, and one generic term for the whole has, at all events, the merit of simplicity.
The Yellow Wagtail, whose plumage in the breeding season equals in brightness that of the Canary, is one of the most attractive of all our summer migrants. When running over the pastures and fields of sprouting wheat, the olivegreen colour of the dorsal plumage renders it. very inconspicuous, but when perched upon some rail, or clod upon the bare fallow, the bright yellow of the under-parts contrasts vividly with the duller surroundings, and at once attracts the attention of the passer-by. Its favourite haunts are the marshes and water-meadows where cattle are pastured. Here it finds plenty of food amongst the insects which are disturbed by the grazing kine, and the numerous small and thin-shelled mollusca which abound in such situations.
When the nest has to be constructed—and it is always upon the ground—more sheltered spots are selected, such as a tussock of rough grass, or the foot of a bunch of tares or clover, and I have occasionally discovered a nest under an overhanging clod upon a bare fallow. Thus in regard to its mode of nesting it differs essentially from the well-known Pied Wagtail. Its note, too, is very different, and its flight much sharper, and with bolder curves. The eggs are quite dissimilar, being so closely freckled over with yellowish-clay colour, like those of the Grey Wagtail, as to appear at a little distance almost uniformly so coloured; whereas the eggs of the Pied and White Wagtails are white, freckled with ash-grey, chiefly at the larger end.
The Yellow Wagtail generally arrives in this country during the first week of April (for many years I have noted the 5 th of that month as the average date for its appearance), and it departs during the first week of September. For some time previous to its departure, the young and old assemble in flocks, and it is not unusual to see several united family parties in the meadows, numbering from a dozen to a score of individuals.
Although generally distributed during the summer months throughout the greater part of England and Scotland, it is said to be somewhat rare in Ireland, where its presence has been detected by comparatively few observers. So much more attention, however, is paid to ornithology now-a-days, that this species, like many others, may be reported to be more common than formerly because more observed. In the central and southern portions of Europe it is not uncommon, and crossing the Mediterranean, as winter approaches, it passes down both* the east and west coasts of Africa as far as Natal on the one side and Angola on the other. A considerable number, however, pass the winter in Africa, a good many degrees further north.
THE GREY-HEADED WAGTAIL
to the last-named, amongst the flocks of Yellow Wagtails that visit us in the spring the grey-headed species no doubt often escapes observation. But it is not on this account to be considered rare. On the contrary, there is good reason to believe that it is a regular migrant to this country, and this is not surprising when we consider that it is the common Yellow Wagtail of northern Europe, the true Motacilla flava of Linnaeus. It differs chiefly from Ray's Wagtail in having a well-defined cap of a grey colour on the head, a white instead of a yellow streak over the eye, and a white chin instead of a yellow one.1 It frequents the same situations as the last-named, and its habits are very similar.
1 For some further points of distinction the reader may be referred to "The Birds of Middlesex," pp. 64, 65.