Grey Wagtail – odd behaviour

posted in: Migration-Migrants, Miscellaneous | 0

“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

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