Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
White Wagtail - Motacilla alba
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General Comments North Carolina has, remarkably, three records of White Wagtail, of each of two distinct subspecies: two of the western European race Motacilla alba alba, and one of the Siberian or "Black-backed" race M. a. lugens. The first record from eastern North America of the "Black-backed" race lugens was photographed at Cedar Island (Carteret) on 15 May 1982 [Chat 46:121 link]. An apparent immature of the western European race alba was witnessed by about 20 birders and photographed at Falls Lake (Wake) on 22 October 2002 [Chat 68:78-82 link], [Chat 67:3 link]. Quite a surprise, especially for the winter season, was one of the European race photographed at Eagle Island (Brunswick), at a dredge spoil site, on 1 Jan 2022 [Chat 86:62 link]; photos are on the CBC Photo Gallery. It is currently being reviewed by the NC BRC. A fourth wagtail record has been accepted by the NC BRC, but this was simply as "wagtail sp.", as a determination of the species could not be made by the observers; this record was also from Cedar Island, on 15 Sep 2013* [Chat 78:8-13 link].

The American Ornithologists' Union deemed M. a. alba and M. a. lugens to be two species (White Wagtail and Black-backed Wagtail) from about late 1982 to 2004. This means the 1982 sighting went from being North Carolina's first White Wagtail in 1982, to its first and only Black-backed Wagtail from 1983 to 2004, and back to being the first White Wagtail again in 2004. The 2002 sighting was considered the state's first White Wagtail from 2002 to 2004, but is now considered the state's second White Wagtail! One needs to keep this in mind when reading the literature, because the dates of the sightings and the AOU decisions seem to be optimized to create confusion!

Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SA
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Two records (see above).
Piedmont One record (see above).
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips
1/2 *
Attribution LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2014-05-16]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.