River Resident to Blackpool Breeding Bird – the interesting case of the roof nesting Grey Wagtails

Above is the view from where I park on East Topping Street in Blackpool on workdays. There are three of four bays which are arranged so that you are unlikely to get hit by stray car doors, and there’s the bonus of this fantastic street art. Quite often there’s also the sharp call of a Grey Wagtail passing overhead as I make my way to the office, occasionally there are two or three in territorial skirmishes.

Grey Wagtails are riparian, breeding along the banks of rivers and streams before dispersing into other habitats in winter. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when they nested in the log flume ride of Blackpool Pleasure Beach. That it was a surprise to me doesn’t reflect well, as I had heard them and seen them zipping overhead in summer for a few years and talked myself out of it. They were clearly beginning to nest on the rooftops of Blackpool even then, and have continued to do so.

When you know the two note ‘zi zi’ call you realise these birds occupy a number of sites in the town, and there’s an influx in winter but they are tricky customers to see well much of the time. Last year though I did see a pair on the sea defences near North Pier on 4 April before they retreated to nearby hotel roofs.

The female of that pair was sporting colour rings, and I managed to get the combination accurately. This showed she had been caught and ringed at Middleton, near Heysham in North Lancashire as a first winter on 7 October 2014. That winter she was observed twice, in January and February 2015, on the Ribble estuary at Warton Marsh. Presumably she bred in Blackpool thereafter, as passage birds have generally moved through by April. Six years is a decent age for a Grey Wagtail, hopefully she is still going strong.

Although there are no fast flowing rivers in the town Grey Wagtails nest on the brook that flows near the crematorium and the community orchard. At Victoria Hospital they nest on the roof spaces but are able to regularly visit the nearby Stanley Park lakes. It is interesting how the species had adapted to use these very urban habitats in recent years.

Grey Wagtails are so skittish in Blackpool I don’t have any decent shots. This image from Hong Kong is used under Creative Commons Licence

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