The White-headed Marsh Tyrant on Ibiza and Formentera
The white-headed marsh tyrant are small passerine birds, between 16 and 19 cm long, belonging to the family Motacillidae. Common features include their slender, elongated shape, with a fine beak designed to catch insects and a long tail.
The three species have a diet based on small insects, and a preference for nesting in hollows, crevices, dense bushes... or even on the ground if there is dense vegetation or rocky hollows that are favourable.
In the Pitiusas, broadly speaking, we can see three species of white-headed marsh tyrant. None of them live all year round, that is to say, all of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have their stay in our islands conditioned by their migratory processes.
White wagtail (Motacilla alba); titina (in ibicenco).
It is undoubtedly the most common and easiest to see of the three, and it is not uncommon to see it associated with human environments, normally with the presence of water, landscaped areas, irrigated cultivated areas, etc. Unlike what happens in the Iberian Peninsula, in Ibiza and Formentera the white wagtail is not a breeding species. It accompanies us during the autumn and winter months, where part of the birds that come down from northern Europe, especially Iceland and Scandinavia, stay on their migratory route to sub-Saharan Africa.
It is notable for its mixture of black, grey and white colours. There is a certain degree of sexual dimorphism between males and females, and juveniles and adults. Adult males have a head and crown (the upper part of the head and nape of the neck) with a clear contrast of black and white, as well as a black bib. Females, on the other hand, have these same areas with grey tones and the white is somewhat more faded.
Juveniles cannot be sexed on the basis of plumage, they are all brownish-grey, with white parts of a "dirty" white.
Possible adult female or young male, note the difference in the black and white areas on the head, compared to the adult male (photo below).
Another specimen, which could be placed as a possible adult female, or young male.
Gray wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) or titina de la Mare de Déu.
Its presence is closely linked to environments with water, such as streams, irrigation areas or ponds. Its presence in Eivissa is concentrated in the winter months, and as with the white wagtail, it can be found on our islands between October and March. To the untrained eye, it can be easily confused with the white wagtail, when the yellow is not very marked, or with a yellow wagtail when the yellow stands out. But in spite of the certain similarity it may have with the white wagtail, it differs from it in at least 2 features, which make it unmistakable.
On the one hand, its tail is the longest of the three wagtail species we are dealing with; on the other hand, both the belly area and the area of the caudal undercoat feathers (that is, the feathers of the underbelly and the cloaca) are yellow (something that does not occur in the white wagtail, which has these same parts in white). Yellow, which in the case of adults of both sexes, may also extend to the chest.
As with white wagtails, juveniles have a duller, almost brownish, grey back, white and yellow breast and underparts. On the other hand, males, unlike females, have an intense black throat in spring, while females have a white throat mottled with black.
Adult specimen of the Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) or titina de la Mare de Déu.
Juvenile specimen, photo Roberto Bustamante.
Western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava) o titina groga.
What will help us most to identify it is its colour: yellow predominates. But unlike the western yellow wagtail, the yellow is present both on the underparts and on the back, which in adults is grey, but with a marked yellow background (something that does not occur with either the white wagtail or the Grey Wagtail). Depending on the subspecies of western yellow wagtail, only the head, which can be black to bluish-grey, with or without a white eyebrow, is free of yellow... but this depends on the subspecies and even on whether we are looking at a hybrid between subspecies. Therefore, to identify a yellow wagtail, we must assume that it is "yellow" and with an absence of grey on the back, and then there may be variations in the intensity of the yellow, colouring of the head, throat (white or yellow), presence or not of a marked eyebrow...
In juvenile western yellow wagtail, the yellow is a little duller, and the back, rather than grey with a yellow background, is a greyish-brownish colour.
Of the three species, the western yellow wagtail has the smallest tail, and is the one that accompanies us for the shortest time. The common wagtail will be seen mainly during the migration months, both prenuptial (spring) and postnuptial (autumn). As we have already mentioned, with a keen eye and a bit of luck, we can see several of the existing subspecies of western yellow wagtail on Eivissa and Formentera from time to time (during migration). But the most common and the one we will normally find is the nominal species: Motacilla flava flava .
Adult specimen of titina groga.
The same specimen, from another angle.
Juvenile of the titina groga, western yellow wagtail.
So far so easy when it comes to boyeras, now it gets more fun and we get into the subspecies and possible hybrids:
Western yellow wagtail iberiae (Motacilla flava iberiae).
This is the subspecies present on the Iberian Peninsula, with a presence as far south as France, and its characteristic white throat and well marked eyebrow, also white.
Western yellow wagtail thunbergi (Motacilla flava thunbergi).
Its wintering area, like that of the rest of wagtails, is in Africa, but its breeding area is located in northern Europe (Scandinavia, Finland... until it reaches northwest Siberia). As can be seen, the yellow reaches almost completely to the base of the beak and they lack an eyebrow. The head is a rather dark bluish-gray color.
Western yellow wagtail flavissa (Motacilla flava falvissima).
It is the Great Britain's own yellow wagtail during the summer season, and as can be seen, the intensity of the yellow in the area of the head is quite striking, compared to other subspecies.
Specimen of flava flavissima photographed by Roberto Bustamante during the fauna control carried out by Nova Falcons at the Aeroport d'Eivissa.
And to finish off, we move on to the western yellow wagtail... hybrid?
If until now the issue of the cattle wagtails with the subspecies seemed somewhat convoluted, now comes when things get fun, and we begin to get involved with hybridizations.
Western yellow wagtail superciliaris (Motacilla flava superciliaris).
It is a hybridization that results in a specimen with a dark head, bordering on black or directly black, which is considered to be the fruit of the feldeg subspecies with one of the other subspecies.
Possible feldeg superciliaris by thunbergi or iberiae, although it would not be ruled out either, that it could be a pure thunbergi specimen, with some individual variation... as already said, things get funny!
Another possible specimen of feldeg's superciliaris by thunbergi or iberiae.
Western yellow wagtail drombowskii (Motacilla alba drombowskii).
It is called the "Romanian wagtail", basically because it is in this country where these hybrids are frequent, which are the result of hybridization between a feldeg and a flava or a beema.
On this occasion, the specimen in the photo has not been registered in the Pitiusas, but we have incorporated it, as it is a specimen ringed on the neighboring island of Menorca, specifically on Illa del l'Aire, during the prenuptial migration campaign of the 2022. Campaign, which has been carried out on that islet by the SOM (Ornithological Society of Menorca), since 1993.
As can be seen, the issue of hybrids is complex, here we have only dealt with a couple of examples, and without touching the xanthoprys type, (the result of feldeg by lutea), and without going into assessing the controversy and difficulty that of course if they can generate hybrids, due to the different color gradations or traits that the different types of hybridizations can have.
But regardless of whether or not we are sure of the subspecies or hybridization, what is clear is that the Pitiusas are an excellent place, both in theory and in practice, from which to enjoy the cattle wagtails during their migratory passages .
Text: own elaboration.
Photographs: unless another person is specified, Borja Pérez; and unless otherwise indicated, all photos have been taken in Eivissa or Formentera.
To know more:
Motacilla flava iberiae.
SOM (Societat Ornitològica de Menorca):
About Nova Falcons:
Nova Falcons is a company specializing in wildlife control and environmental services.
- Hits: 167