Willie wagtail

Willie wagtail Photo: Queensland Government

Willie wagtail Photo: Queensland Government

Common name: willie wagtail

Scientific name: Rhipidura leucophrys

Family: Rhipiduridae (fantails)

Conservation status: This species is listed as Least Concern in Queensland (Nature Conservation Act 1992).

Description: Small and mostly black, willie wagtails have almost entirely black upperparts and white underparts and eyebrow. The male and female have similar plumage. They have a fan-tail and a short slender bill.

Habitat and distribution

The willie wagtail has responded well to human alteration of the landscape and is a common sight in urban lawns, parks, gardens and farms. The willie wagtail is at home in a wide variety of habitats, but avoids densely forested areas such as rainforest. It prefers semi-open woodland or grassland with scattered trees, often near wetlands or bodies of water. Willie wagtails are found across almost all of Australia.

Life history and behaviour

Most of us have seen willie wagtails hopping about in the daytime, wagging their tail from side to side. They wag their fan-like tail as they hop about feeding on insects. Birds are mostly encountered singly or in pairs, although may gather in small flocks. Unlike other fantails, much of its time is spent on the ground. Willie wagtails usually pair for life and breed from August to January.

Willie wagtails can be aggressive, especially when they feel their territory is under threat. Excitable little birds, they will defend their patch from much larger animals, even cows.

These chirpy birds have a number of distinct calls during both the day and night. Listen on moonlit nights during their breeding season for a bird singing “sweet pretty creature”. This is one of the willie wagtail's call.


Listen to an audio clip of the willie wagtail (MP3, 112.7KB)

Related information

Pizzey G and Knight F 1997. The field guide to the birds of Australia. Harper Collins Publishers, Sydney.

Simpson K and Day N 2010. Field guide to the birds of Australia 8th Edition. Viking Australia.

Stephen T Garnett ST and Crowley GM 2000. The Action Plan for Australian Birds. Environment Australia, Canberra.

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