Motacilla clara (Mountain wagtail, Long-tailed wagtail) 

Bergkwikkie [Afrikaans]; Umcelu, Umvemve, Umventshana (generic terms for wagtail) [Xhosa]; umVemve (generic term for wagtail) [Zulu]; Bergkwikstaart [Dutch]; Bergeronnette à longue queue [French]; Langschwanzstelze [German]; Alvéola-rabilonga [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Motacillidae > Genus: Motacilla

Motacilla clara (Mountain wagtail, Long-tailed wagtail) Motacilla clara (Mountain wagtail, Long-tailed wagtail) 

Mountain wagtail. [photo Martin Goodey ©]

Mountain wagtail, Ethiopia. [photo Toby Austin ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in isolated patches across sub-Saharan Africa, from Guinea to Ethiopia south to Southern Africa. Here it is locally common in the north and eastern highlands of Zimbabwe and adjacent Mozambique, as well as in Swaziland and eastern South Africa, from Limpopo Province to the Eastern Cape. It generally prefers small rivers and streams surrounded by forested hills, especially with waterfalls and flat rocks immersed in shallow water, surrounded by hills with forest, woodland or dense thicket. It may also occupy forest paths, tracks and roads, occasionally moving into gardens.

Distribution of Mountain wagtail in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common).


It mainly eats insects (especially flies), doing most of its foraging along watercourses, searching for prey on rocks, in sand and shallow water. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, usually with a life-long pair bond.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a bulky cup lined with rootlets, plant stems and fibrous tissues, on a foundation of material moistened by water then set to dry. It is typically placed in a cavity or niche of a stream bank, boulder, rock face or dam wall, alternatively in plant debris caught in a branch over water, tree near a deep pool or occasionally in man-made structures, such as under a bridge, in a pumphouse or on a building roof.
  • Egg-laying season is from August-May, peaking from September-December.
  • It lays 1-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 13-14 days, in shifts of about 15-60 minutes.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents and brooded constantly for the first 3-4 days or so of their lives, after which brooding is intermittent, ceasing completely when they reach about 6-8 days old. They eventually leave the nest at approximately 14-18 days old, remaining in the adults territory for roughly 19-48 more days.


Not threatened, although pollution of the rivers and streams it is dependent on is definitely cause for concern.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



 Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Birds home   Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search