Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (extent of occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 689,000-1,980,000 pairs, which equates to 1,380,000-3,960,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms c.20% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 6,900,000-19,800,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be stable overall in the absence of evidence for any declines or substantial threats. In Europe, trends between 1980 and 2013 show that populations have been stable (EBCC 2015).


This species inhabits fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers with riffles and exposed rocks or shoals, often in forested areas. It is also found in more lowland watercourses, even canals, where there are artificial waterfalls, weirs, millraces or lock gates. Outside of the breeding season it occupies a wider variety of habitats, including farmyards, sewage farms, forest tracks, tea estates and even town centres (Tyler 2016). The breeding season is from the end of March to August. It is monogamous and both sexes build the nest which is a typical platform and cup of coarser material, lined with finer grasses, root fibres and often horse hair. It is generally sited on a rock ledge, in a crevice in a riverbank, or often on a ledge in a wall, under a bridge or in a drainpipe. Clutches can be from three to seven eggs. It feeds mainly on insects but also takes freshwater shrimps (Gammarus), terrestrial snails (Mollusca) and spiders (Araneae). Island races and southern populations are resident whilst other populations are partial or long-distance migrants (Tyler 2016).


In Europe the species is vulnerable to severe winters which may produce significant although short term declines (Hagemeijer and Blair 1997, Tyler 2016).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Bern Convention Appendix II.

Conservation Actions Proposed
No conservation measures are currently needed for this species within Europe.


Text account compilers
Symes, A., Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Ashpole, J

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Motacilla cinerea. Downloaded from on 22/09/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/09/2023.