The Fantail wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a species of sparrow in the family of Rhipiduridae. It is native to Australia from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago and east of Indonesia. It is a common and familiar bird throughout much of its territory; he lives in a variety of habitats, but not attending the dense forests. It measures 19 to 21.5 cm in length and has a contrasting plumage, with black upper parts and white belly. Males and females have similar plumage.
It is an insectivore that spends a lot of time hunting prey in open habitat. Its common name is derived from his habit to move its tail horizontally when foraging on the ground. Aggressive and territorial, they often harass the birds much larger than him, like the Giant Kingfisher and the Eagle of Australia. This species has adapted well to changing the landscape by humans and is common on lawns in parks and gardens in urban areas.
There are three subspecies: leucophrys, in central and southern Australia, Picat, the smaller, northern Australia, and melaleuca, the largest in New Guinea and islands nearby. Despite its appearance, Fantail Waterthrush has no connection with the wagtails of the genus Motacilla. It has long been part of the core group of corvids, which includes crows, the crows, the drongos and birds of paradise. After placing it in the family of Dicruridae, the authorities consider it in 2011 as sufficiently distinct to justify the existence of his own family, Rhipiduridae.
It is widely known in the indigenous folklore, or as a bearer of bad news, either as a thief of secrets.
The Fantail Waterthrush adult is between 19 and 21.5 cm in length, with a long tail of 10 to 11 cm, and weighs 17 to 24 grams. The beak is slender and measures about 1.8 cm long, and it ends with a small hook. This species has longer legs than others Fantail, which may be an adaptation to foraging on the ground.
The male and female have similar plumage: head, throat, upper breast, wings, back and tail are black, with the lower parts, the “whiskers” and eyebrows white. The legs and beak are black and the iris is brown.
In their first year, the immature birds which have completed the molt their juvenile plumage may have the tips of wing feathers paler two while the young who do not have molted plumage duller, their upper parts are brown with some beige spots on the head and chest.
Ecology and Behavior
The Fantail Waterthrush is very “talkative” and makes a number of distinct vocalizations. Its most characteristic call is a Chit-Chit-Chit-Chit fast, which is emitted to deter potential attackers entering its territory but also seems to be used to signal to his companion, a potential threat in the neighborhood for their offspring. John Gould recounts that this cry is like the sound of a rattle or the “small gears a steam engine”.
The Fantail Waterthrush is almost always in motion and takes more than a few moments of rest during the day. Perched, he waves the tail from left to right, while busily looking for prey. He lives mostly alone or in pairs although it is likely to form small groups. Unlike other Fantail, he spent most of his time on the ground. In flight, it has large wing beats, interspersed with small beats faster. He wags his tail in a characteristic way on landing after a short flight.
These birds are territorial and can be very courageous to defend its territory, chasing not only the birds, but many larger species such as Magpie Cassican (Gymnorhina tibicen), the Australian Raven (Corvus coronoid), the kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) or the Australian Eagle (Aquila audax). It can even attack dogs and cats. It has also been observed harassing long-necked turtle (Chelonian longicollis) and tiger snakes (Notechis) in Western Australia. When attacking an opponent, he avoids being put front and attack from behind. Males and females can behave well and generally more intense in the breeding season. A couple will put limits and defend his territory against other couples in a ritual well-organized this territory can cover up to three hectares. In case of intrusion, homeland defense can be done in a couple: one of the two birds remains stationary while the other revolves around the enemy and attack several times before the roles are reversed, Both partners vocalizing during that time. The Fantail displays his eyebrows white at times aggressive, and can retract to make them less visible sign of submission or appeasement.