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A photo of a Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys)
Willie Wagtail

Willie Wagtail

Rhipidura leucophrys

The Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a sprightly black and white bird, a familiar sight across much of its range. It measures 19–21.5 cm in length, with males and females donning similar plumage. The upperparts are almost entirely black, while the underparts are a stark white, creating a striking contrast. This bird is a member of the fantail genus Rhipidura and is part of the "core corvine" group, which includes crows, ravens, and birds of paradise.

Identification Tips

When identifying the Willie Wagtail, look for its distinctive black upperparts and white underparts, including a white eyebrow and "whiskers." The tail is long and the legs are longer than those of other fantails, possibly an adaptation for foraging on the ground. Juveniles may have brown-tinged upperparts and pale brown scallops on the head and breast.


The Willie Wagtail is adaptable, inhabiting a wide variety of habitats but avoiding dense forests. It prefers semi-open woodlands or grasslands with scattered trees, often near water bodies.


This bird is native to Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Eastern Indonesia. It is sedentary in most of its Australian range but may show seasonal movements in some areas.


The Willie Wagtail is known for its ceaseless activity, rarely staying still during daylight hours. It is territorial and unafraid to harass much larger birds. It is often seen hunting in open areas like lawns, parks, and gardens.

Song & Calls

The Willie Wagtail has a variety of vocalisations, including a rapid "chit-chit-chit-chit" alarm call. It also produces more melodious sounds, with some likening its call to a child's rattle or the sweet phrase "pretty little creature."


Willie Wagtails usually mate for life, with the breeding season extending from July to December. They build cup-like nests on tree branches or man-made structures, laying two to four cream-white eggs with brownish markings. Both parents are involved in raising the young.

Similar Species

While similar in name, the Willie Wagtail is not closely related to the Eurasian wagtails of the family Motacillidae. It is unique within its range for its coloration and behavior.

Diet and Feeding

Insectivorous by nature, the Willie Wagtail feeds on a variety of arthropods, including insects and small invertebrates. It is often seen following larger animals to catch prey disturbed by their movements.

Conservation Status

The Willie Wagtail is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating it is not currently at risk of extinction in the wild.

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