The Motacillidae family is cosmopolitan; some wagtails and pipits breed as far north as the Arctic tundra, while the South Georgia pipit (Anthus antarcticus) occurs on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. Almost all holarctic wagtails and pipits are strongly migratory, many moving south to winter in Africa and Asia.

Wagtails occur throughout most of the Old World but are of limited occurrence in Australia, where the yellow wagtail regularly reaches the north and the yellow-hooded wagtail (Motacilla citreola), the gray wagtail (M. cinerea), and the white wagtail (M. alba) are vagrants. The yellow wagtail breeds from western Europe and North Africa east to Siberia, and the race tschutschensis is the only wagtail breeding in the western hemi-sphere—in the arctic tundra of western Alaska. Most wagtails are widely distributed, but the Mekong wagtail (M. samveas-nae) has a very restricted distribution in Southeast Asia, while the Japanese wagtail (M. grandis) occurs only in Japan. Three species are endemic to Africa: the African pied wagtail (M. aguimp), the cape wagtail (M. capensis) and the mountain wagtail (M. clara). One species, M. flaviventris, is endemic to Madagascar.

The pipits are very widely distributed, breeding from the arctic tundra through Eurasia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia. The northernmost breeding Eurasian species, such as the red-throated pipit, the olive-backed pipit and the pechora pipit (Anthus gustavi) winter far to the south, in Africa and/or southern and southeastern Asia. The tawny pipit (A. campestris) and the tree pipit (A. trivialis), which breed in the western Palearctic and east into central Asia, winter in Africa and Asia south to the Indian subcontinent. The meadow pipit (A. pratensis) breeds mainly in the western Palearctic and winters in Europe, North Africa and southwest Asia. Africa boasts 13 endemic pipit species, some migratory but most resident, and several with restricted ranges.

The Australasian pipit (Anthus novaeseelandiae) is the only species occurring in Australia and New Zealand, while the alpine pipit (A. gutturalis) is endemic to New Guinea. North America has three pipits, all migratory: the endemic Sprague's pipit (A. spraguei); the American pipit (A. rubescens), which breeds in eastern Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada and south locally to New Mexico, and winters south to Central America; and the red-throated pipit, which breeds in western Alaska. South America has seven endemic pipits, including the widespread yellowish pipit (A. lutescens), the migratory cor-rendera pipit (A. correndera), which occurs south from central Peru, and the very poorly known chaco pipit (A. chacoensis), which is recorded only from southern Paraguay and northern Argentina.

The longclaws are endemic to sub-Saharan grassland regions of Africa. The yellow-throated longclaw is very wide spread, occurring through west, central and eastern Africa, its range hardly overlapping with that of the very similar Fu-elleborn's longclaw (Macronyx fuellebornii) occurring in south-central Africa. The other species are less widespread.

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