from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. Any of various chiefly Old World birds of the family Motacillidae, having a slender body with a long tail that constantly wags.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. Any of various small passerine birds of the family Motacillidae, of the Old World, notable for their long tails.
from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English
- n. Any one of many species of Old World singing birds belonging to Motacilla and several allied genera of the family Motacillidæ. They have the habit of constantly jerking their long tails up and down, whence the name.
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. Any bird of the family Motacillidæ (which see): so called from the continual wagging motion of the tail.
- n. Some Similar bird. In the United States the name is frequently given to two birds of the genus Seiurus, the common water-thrush and the large-billed water-thrush, S. nævius and S. motacilla, members of the family Mniotiltidæ, or American warblers. See cut under Seiurus.
- n. A term of familiarity or contempt.
- n. A pert person.
- To flutter; move the wings and tail like a wagtail.
from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.
- n. Old World bird having a very long tail that jerks up and down as it walks
Is it known that the pretty pied water-wagtail is called la lavandière from its love of water and its manner of beating up and down its tail as our washerwomen wield their wooden beaters?
What was generally made use of consisted of vervain, tenia, and hippomanes; or a small portion of the secundine of a mare that had just foaled, together with a little bird called wagtail; in Latin motacilla.
It would seem quite natural to call the wagtail "lady-bird," if that name had not been registered by a diminutive podgy tortoise-shaped black and red beetle.
Something in the style of the birds recalls the wagtail, though they are so much larger.
_solopachium_, meaning a "mannikin eighteen inches high"; Saumasius proposes salopygium, a "wagtail"; several editors have _salaputium_, an indelicate word nurses used to children when they fondled them, so that the exclamation would mean, "what a learned little puppet!"
Others identify more intimate ambassadors: the first dashing yellow daffodil, the rising dawn chorus of birdsong, the earliest appearance of frogspawn in ponds and ditches, the first cut of grass, a pied wagtail over ploughed land and yellow catkins dangling from hazel branches all symbolise spring's arrival for someone.
Two other species of wagtail also breed in Britain, the grey and yellow wagtails.
Grey wagtails are resident, and often found along fast-flowing rivers and streams, while the yellow wagtail is purely a summer visitor, found mainly in wet-meadows such as those on Tealham Moor, a short distance from my home.
Despite their names they are often confused with one another, as the grey wagtail is a striking bird with plenty of lemon-yellow in its plumage.
The British race, the pied wagtail, has a much darker back: almost black in the male, compared with pale grey in the white wagtail.