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Motacilla capensis (Cape wagtail)

Gewone kwikkie [Afrikaans]; Umcelu, Umvemve, Umventshana (generic terms for wagtail) [Xhosa]; umVemve (generic term for wagtail) [Zulu]; Kamukombo (generic term for wagtails) [Kwangali]; Motjoli (generic term for wagtails) [South Sotho]; Moletašaka [North Sotho]; Mandzedzerekundze, Matsherhani, N'wapesupesu [Tsonga]; Mokgôrônyane [Tswana]; Kaapse kwikstaart [Dutch]; Bergeronnette du Cap [French]; Kapstelze [German]; Alvéola do Cabo [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 capensis (Cape wagtail) Motacilla capensis (Cape wagtail)

Cape Wagtail at Kleinmond, Western Cape, South Africa [photo Duncan Robertson ©]

Cape Wagtail, Milnerton Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Distribution and habitat

Although it occupies Uganda, eastern DRC and Kenya, the bulk of its population extends from southern DRC through Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. Here it is especially common across South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho, while more scarce in Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. It can occur almost anywhere that has open ground adjacent to water, also favouring the rocky coastline, farms, villages, cultivated land, parks, gardens and urban centres.

Distribution of Cape 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). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of the following animals:

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the following birds:


It mainly eats invertebrates and scraps of human food, doing most of its foraging on the ground or in shallow water, often eating animals that are already dead. It also takes insects attracted to lights in the early morning or caught in car radiators. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with pairs staying together over multiple breeding seasons. While breeding males often fiercely attack their reflection in mirrors.
  • The nest is built by sexes in about 2-10 days, consisting of a cup made of a wide range of materials, including grass, weeds, roots, reeds, pine needles, rags, seed pods and string, lined with hair, rootlets, wool and feathers. It is typically placed in a recess in a steep bank, tree, bush or commonly in a man-made site, such as a hole in a wall, pot plant or bridge.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from about July-December.
  • It lays 1-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 13-15 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about 14-18 days. They are still fed by the adults for another 20-25 days, becoming fully independent up to about 44 days after fledging, rarely up to 60 days.


Not threatened, in fact it is viewed as a 'bird of cattle' and 'bird of good fortune' by the Xhosa people, and is therefore afforded protection.


  • 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.