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.