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Two White Wagtail recoveries from abroad!

Photo: Karen Munro
Photo: Karen Munro
White Wagtail ringed at Lista on 11.09.2014 with code AZP was read in Caithness, Scotland (604 km away), which is 2 years and 5 days after ringing.

Photo: Ewa Jasinska
Photo: Ewa Jasinska
White Wagtail ringed at Lista on 30.05.2016 with code MMJ was read in Gdansk, Poland (940 km away), 3 months and 18 days after ringing.

White Wagtails ringed in Norway in recaptured abroad .
White Wagtails ringed in Norway in recaptured abroad .
(AZP and MMJ are not on the map).

Since 2013 Lista Bird Observatory is participating in a national colour ringing project for White Wagtails. The project is run by Sunnmøre Ringing Group and the goal is to learn more about the Wagtail migration route and its wintering areas. Color-ringing also gives us many readings that provide better knowledge of the local breeding birds' behavior at the station.

By Aïda López & Jan Erik Røer

Both birds were reported in mid September and it seems that they flew towards opposite directions. Since we started this project 3 years ago, we have ringed around 370 White Wagtails at Lista Bird Observatory. We have read many colour rings from local birds and some rings have been reported from elsewhere. Recently, two of our coloured ring Wagtails were reported from abroad for the second and third time, respectively (see photos). The first reading was a White Wagtail found dead in Cyprus in 2014.

Despite the fact that White Wagtails are numerous, few controls and recoveries exist along the migration route and in the winter quarters, and little is known about its migration pattern. The recoveries indicate that the species has a south-easterly migration route to / from wintering with several winter finds in Israel and Egypt, which is an important wintering area.

The two European subspecies of White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alba (White W.) and Motacilla alba yarrellii (Pied W.) have a complicated propagation and migration pattern in Europe. Pied Wagtails are mostly in the British Isles, where they overwinter locally or move to the south of France, Spain and North Africa. However, the “alba” Wagtails can also breed in the British Isles. The White Wagtails that breed in Iceland and Greenland, pass through Britain and Ireland during the spring and autumn.

What we don’t know is if there is two different populations of White Wagtail or if they are all the same population. One population could be the one breeding in southeastern Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands (situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean) and another one breeding in northern Europe. The “islandic population” would take a south-western route, passing through the British Isles and wintering in Southern Europe and Afirca. On the contrary, the “continental population” would take a south-eastern route, passing through eastern Europe and wintering in the Middle-East.

Another theory to understand why these two White Wagtails took so different migration routes could be that the one found in Scotland got blown across, whereas the one found in Poland took a more common south-eastern route.

Although these results are already exciting, we need more colour ring reports for getting more information. We encourage all field ornithologists and others to watch Wagtails closely! The rings are yellow with a three-letter code in black, and the readings can be reported via the web page

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