The Willie Wagtail is the largest and most well-known of the Australian fantails. 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.
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. Bird call recorded by: Fred Van Gessel
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.
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.
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.
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.
Usually seen singly or in pairs, the Willie Wagtail may form winter flocks, often mixed with other species.
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.
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.