Pied Wagtails are one of my favourite birds to just sit and watch. Their hypnotic tail-wagging action is a mysterious behavioural trait which could have its origins in anti-predator behaviour. It’s a lot easier for a predator to take unwary prey which are having a snooze than it is to ambush an active individual. It’s a clear signal to say, “I’m awake and you’re wasting your time”, together with, “Try it and I’ll get away and you’ll just be wasting your energy.” Whatever its origins, it’s an endearing trait which enlivens river banks and town streets alike.
This handsome bird was strutting around Knott End-on-Sea with its full-on Ministry of Silly Walks display. I first drew one over forty years ago in my 1970s nature notebooks.
In South Devon they roost in great numbers in trees in town centres and supermarket car parks, where there’s a special micro-climate of warmth and wind-shelter from bitter breezes.
It’s only a month until they’ll be laying their first eggs. During lockdown I spotted a nest behind a ventilation grille at my closest sports club and I’m hoping they’ll nest there again. The position is a little exposed, so I’ll have to use every ounce of ingenuity (grammes also available) to get close to them without disturbing them at all.
Pied Wagtails have taken a liking to power station cooling towers for the warmth and sewage treatment works for the food. Their lives, as with so many other species, are intimately entwined with ours.
As ours are with theirs, if we will let ourselves.