The Grey Fantail is February's Bird of the Month.
The Grey Fantail is an autumn and winter migrant to the Parklands. It has a superficial similarity to its resident cousin, the Willie Wagtail, but has a more subdued grey appearance, and is usually seen performing extremely active aerial acrobatics in and around the foliage of trees and shrubs.
It is mid to dark grey along its upper parts, often tinged with brown, particularly toward the ends of the wing. It has a cream to pale orange breast, and white under the belly and tail. The head has a white brow above the eye, a small white patch behind the eye, and a white throat separated from the breast by a dark band. There are two small lines of white spots visible down the wing feathers at the rare times when it is seen at rest.
Unlike the Willie Wagtail the Grey Fantail lives up to its name, constantly spreading its long tail into a raised fan shape, with the outer feathers edged with white and the central feathers grey.
Grey Fantails are found throughout Australia, including Tasmania, and into the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island. A closely related species is also found in New Zealand. They are a very adaptable bird and can be found in a wide variety of woodland habitats from the arid woodlands of the interior, to coastal mangroves and urban parks and gardens.
While during the breeding season the population is concentrated in south-eastern and south-western Australia, as winter approaches the population spreads inland and to the north, with the Tasmanian birds moving into Victoria and New South Wales.
The Grey Fantail is insectivorous, often seen flying rapidly to and from a perch in pursuit of prey from tiny flies to wasps, bees and beetles. They will also flit around tree trunks and through the foliage in their search of insects in the canopy.
The breeding season is from August until January, but Grey Fantails are rarely seen in the parklands at this time.
Their nest is a tiny cup of plant fibres woven together with spider web on the fork of a thin branch. The nest is similar in shape to a small wine glass, having a long woven stem hanging down from it. They are known to build separate “decoy” nests before settling on one suitable for laying. This may be as an added protection from predatory birds such as Currawongs, or parasitic Cuckoos. Two to four eggs are laid with incubation shared between the adults for about two weeks. Both parents feed the nestlings until they fledge, and then will often re-use the nest for another brood.
In the Park:
Grey Fantails tend to visit the park mainly when their population is bolstered by the arrival of southern populations in the colder months. They tend to favour areas of thick canopy or shrubs, but will move widely through the park and can be glimpsed flitting through and around the foliage in any location, giving a call similar to that of the Willie Wagtail.