By summertime, most birds have seen their offspring fledge from the nest and are free to go about their daily routine of feeding and keeping a lookout for predators. A bird that is in almost constant motion doing both these activities is the Willie Wagtail.
One of Australia’s most common birds, it has a fantail with white under parts sharply cut off by black upper breast and head. The back and long tail is also black. It has a white eyebrow that it can expand to show its emotional condition, so the eyebrow can change from being almost invisible to being quite conspicuous. Young Willie Wagtails are duller in colour than adults with a short tail and buff edges on the wing feathers.
During feeding the Willie Wagtail will give sudden flicks of its wings to startle hidden insects which it then catches with a fast agile flight. Willie Wagtails do most of their hunting from low branches, fence posts, stumps, rocks or the backs of farm stock. They also run along the ground in search of food. They are quite aggressive and will attack predators far larger than themselves if found near their nests. In and around human habitation they are very much at home.
The call of a Willie Wagtail is brisk, sharp and lively with a pleasantly musical chatter switching between high and low notes. It is said their song sounds like ‘sweet-pretty-creature’ but they can also have a harsh loud metallic chatter when annoyed. During the night they can also be heard calling.
In the breeding season, which is throughout the year in good times but usually between August and December, they build their nests on a horizontal branch, often over water. The nest is a shallow cup of fine grass bound together with spider webs. The nest is lined with wool, hair and feathers.
They lay a clutch of two to four spotted eggs that are brooded by both sexes for 14 to 15 days. Willie Wagtails usually nest close to other black and white birds such as Magpie Larks. You should have no problem finding a Willie Wagtail anywhere in the Parklands this summer.