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White-browed Wagtail I MG 9376.jpg
White-browed wagtail (Motacilla maderaspatensis)
Scientific classification e
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Passeroidea
Family: Motacillidae
Horsfield, 1821

The wagtails, longclaws and pipits are a family, Motacillidae, of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. There are around 65 species in 6 genera. The longclaws are entirely restricted to the Afrotropics, and the wagtails are predominantly found in Europe, Africa and Asia, with two species migrating and breeding in Alaska. The pipits have the most cosmopolitan distribution, being found across mostly in the Old World but occurring also in the Americas and oceanic islands such as New Zealand and the Falklands. Two African species, the yellow-breasted pipit and Sharpe's longclaw, are sometimes placed in a separate seventh genus, Hemimacronyx, which is closely related to the longclaws.[1]

Most motacillids are ground-feeding insectivores[2] of slightly open country. They occupy almost all available habitats, from the shore to high mountains. Wagtails prefer wetter habitats to the pipits. A few species use forests, including the forest wagtail, and other species use forested mountain streams, such as the grey wagtail or the mountain wagtail.

Motacillids take a wide range of invertebrate prey, especially insects are the most commonly taken, but also including spiders, worms, and small aquatic molluscs and arthropods. All species seem to be fairly catholic in their diet, and the most commonly taken prey for any particular species or population usually reflects local availability.

With the exception of the forest wagtail, they nest on the ground,[2] laying up to six speckled eggs.


Wagtails, pipits, and longclaws are slender, small to medium-sized passerines, ranging from 14 to 17 centimetres in length, with short necks and long tails.[2] They have long, pale legs with long toes and claws, particularly the hind toe which can be up to 4 cm in length in some longclaws. There is no sexual dimorphism in size. Overall the robust longclaws are larger than the pipits and wagtails. Longclaws can weigh as much as 64 g, whereas the weight range for pipits and wagtails is 15–31 g. The plumage of most pipits is dull brown and reminiscent of the larks, although some species have brighter plumages, particularly the golden pipit of north-east Africa. The adult male longclaws have brightly coloured undersides. The wagtails often have striking plumage, including grey, black, white, and yellow.

Species and genera[edit]

Based on recent genetic analysis, this family is thought to consist of six clades: two sub‐Saharan African clades, a New World clade, a Palaearctic clade, a widespread large‐bodied Anthus clade, and a sixth widespread genus, Motacilla.[3]

Black-headed Wagtail, Motacilla flava feldegg
Olive-backed pipit, Anthus hodgsoni
Forest wagtail, Dendronanthus indicus
Yellow-throated longclaw, Macronyx croceus
Paddyfield Pipit, Anthus rufulus

Family: Motacillidae


  1. ^ Voelker, Gary; Scott V. Edwards (1998). "Can weighting improve bushy trees? Models of cytochrome b evolution and the molecular systematics of pipits and wagtails (Aves: Motacillidae)". Systematic Biology. 47 (4): 589–603. doi:10.1080/106351598260608. PMID 12066304.
  2. ^ a b c Clancey, P.A. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 172–173. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  3. ^ Pietersen, D.W.; McKechnie, A.E.; Jansen, R.; Little, I.T.; Bastos, A.D.S. (2019). "Multi‐locus phylogeny of African pipits and longclaws (Aves: Motacillidae) highlights taxonomic inconsistencies". Ibis. 161 (4): 781–792. doi:10.1111/ibi.12683.

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