The Tale of the Very Small and Very Lost Wapping Wagtail

Our Wildlife Rangers (Central Wapping Division) have been in action most of the morning dealing with a fledgling wagtail which flew the nest only to be rescued from the Turks Head Cafe.

Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)
Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) on the canal

Wagtails (Genus Motacilla) are wonderful birds which gain their name from the way they, you guessed it, flick their tails up and down for balance when they are out hunting for food. Mainly flies.

You can often see them in the parks around Wapping as well as the canal and Hermitage pond.

They are tiny, about the size of a sparrow, so you need to (a) stop and (b) look to see them.

Our parks are alive with birds of all types nesting and breeding but even our completely untrained Wildlife Rangers (Central Wapping Division) were surprised to see baby wagtails zoom out of the bushes in Wapping Gardens this morning.

Their choice of extremely thorny bush (right) might seem odd at first, hardly a comfortable place to call home, but once nested the thorns must be good for deterring predators.

As you can see this is just by the Wapping Gardens gate leading to John Orwell.

Our Rangers had only just recovered from their close encounter with the flying wagtail when they spotted a fledgling sitting on the ground next to the bush.

After a few minutes the baby bird flew off via the park bench and returned back into the bushes.

Our Rangers called out the Wapping Wildlife Rangers Photographic Team (Stills) and they took over to get some photos of the fledglings.

Wagtail fledgling in bush, Wapping Gardens

After an hour they managed to get some photos of the wagtail in the bush, mainly doing the whole cheeping thing and looking fed up with the world. (The bird, not the Rangers).

Taking a tumble.


“Wapping. So this is home then?”

A little while later our Rangers met up with the Central Wapping Dog Walking and Training Team (Willoughby Walkers) who were out and about as they often are at this time of day.

Alert as ever the Dog Walking and Training Team spotted a fledgling wagtail sitting on the ground near the bushes looking distinctly lost.

“Once I know which direction is Cable Street I will be fine.”

While the Dog Training Team retired to the Turks Head Cafe our Rangers kept watch for a while then attempted to gently capture the birdie and take it back to its nest.

And failed miserably. Three times.

Fortunately the fledgling remembered it could in fact fly and did just that in three short hops to the nearest hedge where our Rangers left it and did what everyone should do in a crisis – drink tea. (The Rangers, not the bird).

Andrea serves up the special of the day

An hour or so later all the Wildlife Rangers gathered in the garden of the Turks Head Cafe for a team debrief. No sooner had they sat down than Andrea (he of the odd coloured trainers) appeared and opening his cupped hand presented the Rangers with a fledgling wagtale!


According to Andrea the bird had been found all the way inside the Turks Head by customers alerted by the sound of cheeping under the window bench. Quite how it had managed to fly all the way across the cafe from the garden door is anybody’s guess.

Unfortunately in his rush to fulfil numerous breakfast orders Andrea neglected to check that our Rangers had the fledgling in custody before releasing it. Result? A break for freedom.

Hotly pursued by Wapping’s finest the fledgling took up a precarious perch in the Turks Head Garden fencing and kept on cheeping.

More failed attempts by our Rangers to capture it followed but they were incapable of getting their hands near the bird due to is position.

Judy to the rescue

Fortunately Judy, another Turks Head regular, volunteered to help and within moments had gently caught they bird – only for it to promptly escape.

This time the Rangers were prepared and the fledgling fell into their Ranger hat and this time the Head Ranger ensured it would not escape, despite the bird not being at all happy.

Closely followed by Judy our Ranger walked the hat containing the birdie right back to the bush where it had first been spotted this morning.

The hat was placed on the bush with the bird inside as you can see below.

Well you would have been able to see if the birdie had not flown off to its mother a split second before we pressed the camera shutter.

Bird happy, Rangers relieved, Judy happy, job done.

Wapping and indeed the whole borough is full of amazing wildlife right now.

All you need to do is go for a nice walk, wait until you hear some birds singing then stop and wait and look.


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