Cape Wagtail

Motacilla capensis

One of South Africa’s most familiar garden birds, the Cape Wagtail is usually seen in pairs of small family groups, and named for the family’s characteristic “pumping” of the tail while sitting or walking. They occupy any natural habitat that offers open ground near or adjacent to even the smallest water source (they love to bath) and have adapted superbly to farms, parks and gardens. Cape Wagtails feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates, as well as human scraps in urban settings. Adults are about 20cm long and weigh around 21g.

While there is a distinct peak in breeding attempts during spring and early summer, Cape Wagtails have been recorded as breeding throughout the year. Their nests are built in trees, bushes or earthen walls, and even in man-made structures, using a wide range of plant and other materials, Monogamous pairs stay together through several successive breeding seasons, raising clutches of 1-5 chicks that hatch after an incubation period of two weeks. The chicks leave the nest at around two weeks old but only become independent of their parents about 6 weeks later.

Cape Wagtails are patchily distributed from Kenya and Uganda to southern Africa. It occurs virtually all over South Africa and is listed as being of least concern by the IUCN, having recovered from a population decline following the introduction of domestic insecticides in the 1950’s and 60’s.

17 thoughts on “Cape Wagtail

  1. Robert

    Goodday,we’ve had a pair of these kwikstertjies breeding in a hedge at our home ,which we uncovered whilst trimming.There were three hatchlings which were there for approximately 2-3 weeks with the parent birds.Then one day they all disappeared ,would like to know if this is the pattern they follow or could there be another explanation,hopefully not being preyed on by other birds/animal.We do have a number of other birds which are in our area ie, weaver, starling ,Red eyes ,doves and mossies,Would greatly appreciated you inputs.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Very interesting observation, thanks Robert. My opinion would be that they simply vacated the area as soon as the chicks were able to manage – having foraged in and near your garden for a period of weeks while the eggs were being incubated and the chicks subsequently growing in the nest, the available morsels of their preferred food items in that vicinity might well have been depleted to a large extent, necessitating a move.

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  2. kim blades, writer

    Hi guys. These are one of the most common birds in my garden. They are so used to me being in the garden that they approach quite near to me while I am weeding or sitting writing in the sunshine, and allow me to approach near to them as well. They remind me of tiny dogs in the garden.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I had to go to Wikipedia to check out your White Wagtail, John. What a striking bird! It’s plumage looks alot more like our Pied Wagtail than the Cape Wagtail, but I agree that the body shape is unmistakably “wagtail”.

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