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21

Willie Wagtail

(Rhipidura leucophrys)
Alternate name(s): "Black-and-white Fantail", "Shepherd's Companion", "Wagtail", "Frogbird", "Morning-bird","Gossipbird", "Messengerbird"
Aboriginal name(s): "jitta jitta" [bibbulbum], "jindirr-jindirr", "jenning-gherrie", "mugana", "tityarokan"; Race "picata": "deereeree", "dhirriirrii" [yuwaalaraay], "dhirridhirri" [gamilaraay]; "djitidjiti", "wilaring" (WA)

Size: 19-22 cm (tail 10-11 cm)
Weight: 17-24 g

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Willie Wagtail at Wikipedia .

Click here for classification information

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

Race "leucophrys"

ADULT

Frontal view of a Willie Wagtail (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Frontal view of a Willie Wagtail challenging the photographer
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Lateral portrait of a Willie Wagtail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, August 2010]

Close-up lateral view of a Willie Wagtail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2007]

Willie Wagtail on the lawn in our garden, making use of the local water supply
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Willie Wagtail preening
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2011]

Here a Willie Wagtail that has specialised into hunting insects standing in the shallow water of a creek
[Girraween NP, QLD, July 2009]

This Willie Wagtail has a deformed bill
[Near Narrabri, NSW, April 2011]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Potentially deadly mistake by an immature Willie Wagtail; the bird scabbed an insect out of the web of a Golden Silk Orb Weaver [Nephila edulis] , but could not free itself of the web anymore; it was rescued by a friendly helper, who had to drag the webbing off its plumage and feet
[Eulah Creek, NSW, February 2008]

Near-lateral view of an immature Willie Wagtail on its perch (photo courtesy of C. Booker)
[Thornlands, Redlands, QLD, June 2013]

Lateral view of an immature Willie Wagtail (note the brown lining of its feathers)
[February 2012]

Dorsal view of an immature Willie Wagtail (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, January 2014]

Lateral view of a juvenile Willie Wagtail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2011]

Adult Willie Wagtail feeding a dependent juvenile with an insect
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, December 2005]

Near-frontal view of a fledgling Willie Wagtail
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2008]

Willie Wagtail without tail feathers

In the photos below we present a "new species", the Willie No-Wagtail! It is unclear why this (adult!) Willie Wagtail had no tail feathers in the middle of September 2007, right in the breeding season. This fellow was actually just building its nest when we came across it. The complete absence of a tail led to a flight pattern that is entirely different from other birds of the species. Naturally, the characteristic wagging was also absent. What all this may suggest is that even without a tail and a wag a Willie Wagtail can still successfully attract a breeding partner.

Lateral view of an adult Willie Wagtail without a tail (slightly out of focus)
[Near Narrabri, NSW, September 2007]

Frontal view of the same Willie Wagtail as above
[Near Narrabri, NSW, September 2007]

Race "picata"

ADULT

Lateral view of a Willie Wagtail
[Fogg Dam NR, NT, August 2014]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Jul - Jan Eggs: 2 - 4 Incubation period: 14 - 15 days Fledging age: 14 days

Given the right conditions, Willie Wagtails can breed any time of the year.

Additional information

There is a separate page describing the development of Willie Wagtail chicks from about day 8 to day 14 (the day they fledged).

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Bowl Material: Grass bound by webs Height above ground: 1 - 15 m

The nest of a Willie Wagtail is nothing more than a cup glued onto a horizontal branch or similarly suitable object. In the cup they raise typically three chicks, which - when growing up - have a hard time staying inside or balancing on the edges of the nest without falling out. As soon as possible they will venture out onto the branch holding the nest.

Additional information

Willie Wagtails like to take advantage of the protection offered by nesting under an Australian Magpie nest. There is now a separate page about various bird species nesting under the umbrella of a stronger, protective species.

This is the fanciest Willie Wagtail nest found by us so far
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2016]

View from above into a Willie Wagtail's nest
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2007]

View of the three Willie Wagtail chicks that hatched out of the eggs shown below, in the same nest as shown above (but a year later)
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2008]

Photo illustrating the size of a Willie Wagtail's nest; the adult bird protrudes over the rim on both sides
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2007]

Willie Wagtail's nest with three chicks; they are too big to all fit into the tiny cup, so the first and most daring starts to venture out, even while the parents are calling a warning
[Mt. Kaputar NP, NSW, January 2008]

Here a pair of Willie Wagtails that got themselves into quite some predicament; in addition to the fact that they had built their nest at eye level for a curious photographer, at least one of the adult birds had to stay at the nest at all times, because it was located in a pine tree in flower and being overrun by ants - one can actually see an ant on the white plumage of the adult bird
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

In the general hubbub little mistakes can happen - oops...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2010]

Some Willie Wagtails have "avant garde" tastes (photo courtesy of E. Campbell)
[Narrabri, NSW, July 2012]

In other seasons the same Willie Wagtails have more conventional nest sites (photo courtesy of E. Campbell)
[Narrabri, NSW, December 2012]

Pair of Willie Wagtails testing the quality of their nest in the making (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, December 2013]

Willie Wagtail nest in the awning of a carport
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2015]

In this example one can see how the base of a Willie Wagtail nest in a natural setting is glued to the underlying fork with copious amounts of spider webs
[Near Bugilbone, NSW, November 2017]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 20 x 15 mm Colour: Creamy, with light- to dark-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval

View from above into a Willie Wagtail's nest with three eggs in a Callistemon (bottlebrush) tree
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2013]

View onto the three eggs inside a Willie Wagtail nest

In this Willie Wagtail nest one chick has just hatched, the second egg is still intact; the nest was so close to our house that one could look into the nest from the rooftop
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2012]

Three Willie Wagtail eggs in the "avant garde" nest shown above (photo courtesy of E. Campbell)
[Narrabri, NSW, July 2012]

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Sedentary/dispersive Elementary unit: Pair

Willie Wagtails are used by other bird species as "sentries". When their alarm call is heard, other birds will leave the area.

They are the most fiercely territorial birds in the area where we live. During the breeding season of the Willie Wagtails no Magpie-larks, Butcherbirds, Australian Magpies or Pied Currawongs are tolerated in the area. Even birds as large as Australian Ravens are hustled by Willie Wagtails to a degree that they prefer to leave rather than put up with the nuisance. We even have seen Willie Wagtails swooping on birds of prey the size of kites. Want to see the extremes that Willie Wagtails go to? See below.

During their breeding season Willie Wagtails appear to never sleep. They make themselves heard at any time of the day and night.

While out hunting insects in the paddocks, Willie Wagtails often make use of the livestock as perches from which they dive onto the insects disturbed by them.

Willie Wagtail using an Eastern Grey Kangaroo as its perch for hunting insects
[Eulah Creek, NSW, June 2008]

Similar to Jacky Winters, they stay around us while working in the garden, picking off insects disturbed by us. The difference is that Willie Wagtails will come much closer than Jacky Winters.

Willie Wagtails are one of only a few bird species that can find prey on a lawn
[Eulah Creek, NSW, May 2013]

Willie Wagtails are quick learners - this immature bird not only knows how to ride piggy-back on an Eastern Grey Kangaroo...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2015]

... but it knows that the tail is a good perch, too; and what's more...
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2015]

... one can pick off insects from this "elevated work platform"
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2015]

Willie Wagtails are very versatile birds - here one seen on a dune with spinifex grass
[Old Bar, NSW, July 2013]

Willie Wagtails are also fearless - this one is holding on to the rump of a Laughing Kookaburra (photo courtesy of R. Druce)
[Maules Creek, NSW]

The only time during the year when Willie Wagtails make themselves scarce, probably as families disperse prior to the start of the next breeding season, is in winter (June/July).

In September 2010 there were 4 different bird nests in our garden, within a radius of only 10 metres. Next to Willie Wagtails there were also pairs of Australian Magpies, Magpie-larks and Striped Honeyeaters. A potentially interesting detail observed by us is that the Willie Wagtails, which usually nest only 1-5 m above ground, on that occasion nested high in a treetop, at about 8 m (the same height as the nest of the Australian Magpies, higher than the other species.

Food, Diet

Adults: Small insects Dependents: As adults Water intake: In dry, hot weather

Like all other members of the Rhipidura family known to us, Willie Wagtails are insect hunters.

Willie Wagtail that has caught a dragonfly (photo courtesy of I. Duncan)
[South West Rocks, NSW, April 2011]

Willie Wagtail with its prey (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, GOld Coast, QLD, December 2013]

This young Willie Wagtail has caught itself a decent meal
[Bundjalung NP, NSW, February 2012]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

willie_20170831.m4a leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Contact call © MD
willie_20140925_2.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Contact call © MD
willie_20140925.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Extended(?) contact call © MD
willie_20140331.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Contact calls © MD
willie_20140328_5.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Pair Q&A © MD
willie_20140622.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Q&A © MD
willie_20140328_5.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Warning call (Aust. Raven) © MD
willie_20140206.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Warning call © MD
willie_20140928.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Annoyed/upset (Pied Curraw.) © MD
willie_20140207.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Annoyed/upset © MD
willie_20150813.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Protecting nest © MD
willie_20150813_2.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Suspicious © MD
willie_20140918.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Begging calls (juvenile) © MD
willie_20150130_2.mp3 leucophrys
(NW NSW)
Begging calls (juvenile) © MD
Click here for more recordings

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

Would you like to contribute photos or sound recordings to this site?
If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.