Forest wagtail -- 山鹡鸰 (Dendronanthus indicus)

Adult forest wagtail perched on branch
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Forest wagtail fact file

Forest wagtail description

GenusDendronanthus (1)

The only species within its genus, the forest wagtail (Dendroanthus indicus) is an unusual bird that is distinguished from other wagtails by its distinctively shaped tail, with central tail feathers that are much shorter and of a different colour to those on either side (3). The forest wagtail also has a characteristic wing and breast pattern, and a prominent, long, whitish stripe that extends from each eye towards the back of the head (2). There are two black, crescent-shaped bands on the upper-breast, the second of which often appears broken or spotted (2) (3).

The crown, upperparts and lesser wing-coverts are brownish-grey with an olive-green tinge and the median and greater wing-coverts are blackish, with broad yellowish-white tips forming two wingbars. The flight feathers are blackish, edged with white and with yellowish-white bases, forming a patch on the wing. The uppertail-coverts are blackish, while the flight feathers on the tail are blackish-brown, except for the central pair of tail feathers, which are brownish-grey with an olive-green tinge, and the outer two pairs, which are whitish with dark bases. The throat and underparts of the forest wagtail are whitish, sometimes washed with faint yellow and becoming buffier-coloured on the flanks. The forest wagtail has pale, dull, pinkish legs, with a short, curved hind claw, while the beak is dark grey or brown above and pinkish-white below, sometimes with a dark tip (2) (3).

The male and female forest wagtail are similar, but the juvenile is browner, without the olive-green tinge to the feathers (2), and the crescent-shaped bands on the breast are usually incomplete and much narrower, with the underparts often appearing more yellow (3) (4).  

Length: 16 - 18 cm (2)
17 - 17 g (2)

Forest wagtail biology

The Motacillidae family, to which the forest wagtail belongs, is known for their aggressive territorial flight displays and, especially, for their impressive courtship song flights. During courtship, the forest wagtail will fly into the air from the ground or a perch, usually to a height of around 8 to 12 metres, before accompanying the descent with a courtship song composed of multiple, high-pitched calls (5), such as a metallic sounding ‘pink’ or ‘pink-pink(2). The forest wagtail is strongly territorial and both sexes patrol and defend a territory during the breeding season (5), which runs between April and June (2).

The nest is a compact cup of twigs, leaves, fine grass and rootlets, held together with moss and cobwebs and lined with hair, wool, fur and moss (2) (3). It is built mainly by the female and is positioned on a horizontal branch, close to the trunk of a large tree, typically four to five metres above the ground (5). The clutch of four or five eggs is incubated solely by the female, during which time the male will bring food back to the nest. After the chicks have hatched, both sexes take turns in provisioning food for the young (2) (5).

The forest wagtail feeds on small invertebrates, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, snails and worms, for which it forages mostly on the ground, picking at prey items as it walks or runs through vegetation on the forest floor. The forest wagtail will also search for prey in the trees, and will occasionally fly-catch from an elevated perch (2) (3) (5).


Forest wagtail range

The forest wagtail breeds in parts of Russia, China, Japan, northeast India and Indonesia. It winters in South and South East Asia (2) (3). The forest wagtail is vagrant to the Maldives, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (1).


Forest wagtail habitat

The forest wagtail is almost exclusively associated with forests, including secondary growth and open woodland, up to elevations of 1,800 metres. It is found is most types of evergreen and deciduous forest within its range, and particularly where Oak (Quercus) is dominant (2). The forest wagtail is most often spotted close to tracks, paths or streams, often perched on a low branch or high boulder (3)


Forest wagtail status

The forest wagtail is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Forest wagtail threats

The forest wagtail is not considered to be globally threatened, and is widespread and common throughout most of its range (2).


Forest wagtail conservation

There are no known conservation measures in place for the forest wagtail.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Find out more

To find out more about the forest wagtail and other bird species, see:

To find out more about conservation in the United Arab Emirates, see:



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Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
Evergreen forest
Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Flight feathers
The feathers at the end of the wing, involved in flight.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Secondary growth
Vegetation that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or clearance.
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Baker, E.C.S. (1926) Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. 2ndEdition, Volume 3. Taylor and Francis, London. 
  4. Robinson, H.C. (1927) The Birds of the Malay Peninsula. Volume 1: The Commoner Birds. Witherby, London.
  5. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Adult forest wagtail perched on branch  
Adult forest wagtail perched on branch

© Choy Wai Mun

Choy Wai Mun


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