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Grey Wagtail – odd behaviour

on 16th March 2019

“I watched an unusual behaviour of 4 Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea) this morning.

A Grey Wagtail with a caterpillar – image from an earlier encounter.

“The usual behaviour I am used to for years is that, on migration, a solitary Grey Wagtail will stake out a stretch of a stream in a jungle area. These birds are not hard to spot but hard to approach. When getting near they will take off, like a bullet, further up or down stream. Occasionally they double back and zoom past the observer. I have yet to see more than one at the same stretch of river.

“Today I saw four Grey Wagtails chasing each other in pairs. I first saw one Grey Wagtail chasing another downstream. I assumed that it had infringed on the migratory feeding territory/space of the other and was getting told off. But I soon saw the pair chasing in the reverse direction, upstream. This continued every 1-2 minutes. I then saw another pair participating in the same activity on the same stretch of the river. This chasing only occurred in pairs and I did not see the 4 ever together or 4 in a row ‘chasing’. This activity continued for more than 20 minutes (I left to watch other birds) with many fly-bys in pairs of the 4 birds.

“It was near impossible to document the activity with still photography. I tried many times with burst shots but only captured speeding blurs (one such image attached – 2 birds chasing in centre of the image – see below).

“I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has seen similar behaviour.
Notes on the Grey Wagtail by Henry Boase (found here: PDF) does describe chasing behaviour but possibly in the context of mating rituals.

“Wells 2007 states that Grey Wagtail on migration are ‘not known to roost communally’. He also describes the possession of a stretch of river by a solitary bird but says ‘there is no evidence of actual defence of space’”.

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
17th September 2018

Location: Kledang-Sayong Forest Reserve, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
Habitat: Trail along primary jungle

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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