You wouldn’t think Fore Street was a good place to go bird watching, but one bird you will see is the Pied Wagtail as it scuttles around your feet looking for insects.  These charming little birds have learned to live in close proximity to humans, expertly judging what is a safe distance to avoid being stepped on.

One of the easiest birds to recognise, the name says it all.  They are pied or black and white, named after the Pyed Freres, 13th century monks who wore black and habits.  They don’t stand still for long, but their long tail bounces up and down several times to avoid tipping forwards when they do stop.  

There are about half a million breeding pairs of Pied Wagtail in Britain.  They are widespread across the country but they do like to come down from upland areas in the winter for food and warmth.  They can be seen in flocks around sewage works at this time because there are lots of flies to eat and the steaming tanks keep the place warm.  A flock of up to fifty will often visit the Fortfield cricket pitch in winter.  They are found across Europe as well where they are known as White Wagtails.  

Pied Wagtails hide their nests away.  Ivy is a common site, in town they will nest under roofs or in deep crevices on old buildings.  A pair nested in the thatch on the croquet shelter by the Bedford car park last year.  They are a common sight on the croquet lawns in summer where they will spot a small insect from quite a distance and dash to eat it, often no more than a mallet length from the player’s feet.  

If food is plentiful, they have two broods of 5-6 eggs each year.  The eggs hatch after 13 days and the young birds will fledge after a fortnight.  They breed in their second year but, being small birds, they often only survive for one breeding season, although one ringed bird was recorded in 1988 some 11 years after it was first ringed.

Sometimes you will see their cousin the Grey Wagtail by the river, a confusing name because they are mainly yellow, but there is no confusion about the little Pied Wagtail, one of our local delights.

Ed Dolphin

Photos Paul Clayden

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