Willie wagtail

Rhipidura leucophrys

TAXONOMY

Turdus leucophrys Latham, 1801, Sydney, Australia. Three subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Black-and-white fantail; French: Rhipidure hochequeue; German: Gartenfacherschwanz; Spanish: Cola de Abanico Blanco y Negro.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

7.1-8.7 in (18-22 cm); 0.6-0.8 oz (17-24 g). A large bird with black plumage and white brow and breast.

DISTRIBUTION

R. l. melanoleuca: Moluccas, New Guinea, and surrounding islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands; R. l. picata: northern Australia; R. l. leucophrys: southwest, southern, central, and southeast Australia.

HABITAT

This species can be found in almost any habitat except the densest rainforest or eucalypt forest; it prefers relatively open areas, from sea level to 9,240 ft (2,800 m).

BEHAVIOR

Terrestrial for much of its time, running, walking, or hopping on the ground. As it does so, the tail is usually held elevated but not often fanned. When pausing, the tail is constantly waved from side to side and up and down. The willie wagtail is usually seen singly, although mates often are nearby. A conspicuous, active, and bold bird that often draws attention to itself by harassing or attacking larger animals that are considered as predators or enter territory during breeding. An aggressive individual, it conspicuously expands its white eyebrows. In Australia, this species is mainly sedentary or locally nomadic, while in New Guinea it may leave some areas in the dry season, returning to breed during the rains. The song, rendered as "sweet pretty creature", may be heard incessantly during breeding, often throughout a moonlit night. There is also a harsh scolding note given when a bird is agitated.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Feeds on insects, larvae, and occasionally small lizards. Much food is obtained by hawking from perches for insects on the wing, or snatching them from ground after short runs.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Although breeding occurs mainly in Jul.-Feb. (Australia), this species can nest in any month, conditions allowing. This may yield up to four or more broods to be reared in a season. Both parents share nest building, incubation, and care of the young. The nest is made of grass and fine bark strips, covered with spider web, but it lacks the tail of most fantails; this is placed on horizontal fork or in man-made structure or other suitable site, usually less than 16.5 ft (5 m) above the ground. The eggs are cream with brown and gray speckles forming a wreath at larger end. Incubation, 14-15 days; age at fledging 14 days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Common throughout its range.

SIGNIFICANCE TO H UMANS

A well-known and popular bird in Australia. In parts of New Guinea it is considered to be a gossip or the ghost of a paternal kinsperson bringing good luck. ♦

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