Autumn ambassador

The most reliable sign that fall is here is a small black-and-white bird.

A white wagtail (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
A white wagtail
(photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)
How do we know that autumn is here and that winter will follow soon? We search for signs. Cooler evenings, shorter days and an end to the holidays for at least two months are certainly signs that the seasons are changing. But, the most reliable sign is a small black-and-white bird. Once you see it in our streets, autumn becomes a fact that no one can deny.
Even if the temperature is still hot outside, the white wagtail comes to Israel in its many thousands every fall, from the cooling European countries and across to central Asia. Hundreds of thousands of wagtails pass through Israel as part of their fall migration to Africa. Israel serves as a welcome stop on their journey where they can rest and feed on insects to replenish their energy loss.
After a few days here they leave us and continue south. However, there is always a large population that chooses Israel as a favorite spot to spend the whole winter before returning to Europe or Asia in the spring. These tens of thousands that remain in Israel are perhaps smarter since they significantly shorten their original migration route, which is long tiring and dangerous.
Many wagtails die of exhaustion during their long journey to Africa.
So making Israel a winter home is a wise decision and a good reason that many birds choose to stay here. After all, they will have to fly back to Europe in a few months.
Our winter guests usually choose to rest in proximity to humans. We can see a lot of them in our streets, walking very fast and wagging their long tails. While during the day the wagtail likes to be alone for it is a territorial bird in nature, in the evening safety in numbers overrules.
Since they are coming from several regions in the north we can find a few subspecies that look different from each other.
Here you can find in the same street wagtails from Poland, Finland, Sweden and Kazakhstan. A true “ingathering of exile” of wagtails. Come evening and the loners forget their territories and gather in their hundreds and thousands to spend the night together in the same group of trees for safety.
So in last light, if you happen to hear a noisy commotion from the direction of a large tree or group of trees, there is no question – it’s lights out for the smart white wagtails.