Willie Wagtail

Did you know?

The Willie Wagtail is often found in the company of cattle and sheep. They either run behind the moving animal snatching insects as they are disturbed, or sit on the animal's back, darting off to capture a flying insect and then returning to its mobile perch.

Calls
The Willie Wagtail's call is well-known, often being uttered constantly throughout the night, and is interpreted as "sweet-pretty-creature", though other calls involve more scolding and chattering notes.
Facts and Figures
Research Species: 
Yes
Minimum Size: 
18cm
Maximum Size: 
22cm
Average size: 
20cm
Average weight: 
20g
Breeding season: 
mainly August to February; can nest all year round.
Clutch Size: 
Three.
Incubation: 
14 days
Nestling Period: 
14 days
Conservation Status
Federal: 
NSW: 
NT: 
QLD: 
SA: 
VIC: 
WA: 
Basic Information
Scientific Name: 
Atlas Number: 
364
What does it look like?
Description: 

The Willie Wagtail is the largest, and most well-known, of the Australian fantails. The plumage is black above with a white belly. The Willie Wagtail can be distinguished from other similar-sized black and white birds by its black throat and white eyebrows and whisker marks. The name wagtail stems from the constant sideways wagging of the tail. Young birds resemble the adults, but have paler, slightly rusty edges to the feathers of the wings.

Similar species: 

Where does it live?
Distribution: 

The Willie Wagtail is found throughout mainland Australia but is absent from Tasmania. It is also found in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Moluccas.

Habitat: 

Willie Wagtails are found in most open habitats, especially open forests and woodlands, tending to be absent from wet sclerophyll forests and rainforests. They are often associated with water-courses and wetlands and are common around human habitation.

Seasonal movements: 

Although usually seen singly or in pairs, it may form winter flocks, often mixed with other species.

What does it do?
Feeding: 

Willie Wagtails are active feeders. Birds can be seen darting around lawns as they hunt for insects on the ground. As they do so, the tail is wagged from side to side. Insects are also captured in the air, in active chases.

Breeding: 

The Willie Wagtail's nest is a neatly woven cup of grasses, covered with spider's web on the outside and lined internally with soft grasses, hair or fur. The soft lining of the nest, if not readily available, is often taken directly from an animal. The nest of the Willie Wagtail may be re-used in successive years, or an old nest is often destroyed and the materials used in the construction of a new nest. Nests are normally placed on a horizontal branch of a tree, or other similar structure. The cream-coloured eggs, speckled with grey and brown are incubated by both sexes. The young birds stay with the parents until the eggs from the next clutch start to hatch. At this point they are driven away. If conditions are favourable, the couple may raise up to four successive clutches in a single season.

Living with us

Although it is active in defending its territory, the Willie Wagtail is very tolerant and tame around humans, often feeding and nesting in close proximity of houses and human activity.

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