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Pipits and Wagtails: Motacillidae - Physical Characteristics

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Birds of the Motacillidae family can be divided into three groups: pipits, longclaws, and wagtails. All members of the family are small to medium sized, ranging in length from 5 to 8.75 inches (12.7 to 22.2 centimeters). Adult wagtails are perhaps the most colorful birds of the group, with their black, white, green, yellow, or gray stripes and patterns. The coloring of pipits, which make up two-thirds of the family, is more subdued, streaked brown to buff, a sand-color, and they have thin, pointy bills and medium to long legs. Pipits, unlike wagtails, do not have different seasonal plumage, feathers. The longclaws often have upper plumage, feathers, designed for camouflage (KAM-uh-flaj; colored to blend in with the surroundings) but brilliantly colored plumage underneath. Adult longclaws have dark, necklace-like plumage next to their throats and chins, which are red, orange, or yellow.

Longclaws are named for their long hind claws, which in several species extend twice as long as the foot, or up to 2 inches (5 centimeters). This hind claw is used for perching on grass clumps and walking.

Pipits, longclaws, and wagtails generally have medium to long tails, which they often pump or wag when walking. They are slender, long-bodied, short-necked, energetic, and quick moving. Pipits and wagtails have very similar body types, causing confusion among birdwatchers, but it is generally agreed that pipits have shorter tails than wagtails and a more upright stance on the ground. Longclaws are the most upright of the group, and are often compared to larks in appearance.

Pipits and Wagtails: Motacillidae - Geographic Range [next]

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