Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Like most of Australia, we have a very active Willy Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) which regards our house and the surrounds as 'his' territory, and regularly poses in camera range as seen before here. No-one really seems to know why they waggle their tails as they do (when perched, or on the ground) but from observation I think the usually advanced explanation of it being a bug attracting trick is highly suspect.

A while ago we noticed that rather than the one Wagtail, there was a pair about, chattering at us and sweeping their tails just as their name is derived.

They were also VERY clear that the barn was out of bounds to us (as above) and anyone else, such as the magpies which were getting harassed (usually it's the magpies harassing everyone else). Wagtails are pretty fearless and didn't mind dive-bombing us if we got too close.

A couple of weeks ago, after all the activity, we were getting ready to go out for dinner at a friends when we noticed that there were two black and white fluffballs on the side and roof edge of the barn - the Wagtail chicks were out, and having a look at the wide world!

Our departure was delayed while I grabbed some images on a rather grey day. Above - chick on the left, watching parent on the right.

"Oo are you?"

A fw days later, after a bit of careful exploring while the barn was clearly not under guard, revealed the nest, on a beam, anchored by a a piece of abandoned wire.

The chicks have grown quickly, since, and it can be hard to tell the juveniles from the parents at a glance, but it's clear the little ones haven't developed the tail-feather muscles properly yet, and the waggle has a training-wheels feel about it.

There's also the fluffy baby feathers, with brown tips, as seen above, even though the Edward Heath eyebrows have receded to a more normal proportion. Mature Wagtails are fully black and white with a dash of yellow, and the sexes seem to be indistinguishable.

Sometimes mum or dad is around, and there's still quite a bit of learning going on. One of the juveniles flew into the house's lean-to and (confused by all the windows) was unable to get out, until I captured it in my hands and released it outside. It was like holding a mouse wrapped in a tiny umbrella, the feather's shaft feeling like the umbrella's ribs.

The Wagtail parental advice and home are wound-up as soon as the next clutch is laid, and the current kids are given the heave-ho.

Bev had one of the adults snatch a bug out of the air less than a couple of feet from her face. They are very aerobatic, and have a very varied flight pattern.

They are nice to have around, and make good companions in the garden.



Anonymous said...

Aren't they sweet - how lucky to have such a front row seat to their growth.

Taccola said...

Yes, they're great to have around - unlike the juvenile Magpies who whine at the parents from dawn to dusk not even stopping while the worm they are fed is going down. They're something else!