Rhipidura fuliginosa

Physical Description

The Pīwakawaka, or Fantail, is a small insectivorous bird known for its distinctive fan-shaped tail and acrobatic flight. It has a compact body with a round head and a short, thin beak. The plumage of the Fantail varies between subspecies, but they generally have a brownish or greyish colouration with white markings on the face, throat, and belly.

Habitat and Range

Pīwakawaka are native to New Zealand and can be found throughout the country, including forests, woodlands, scrublands, and gardens. They are adaptable birds and can also be seen in urban and suburban areas. They prefer habitats with a mix of vegetation, including trees, shrubs, and open spaces.

Feeding Habits

Pīwakawaka are highly agile and skilled hunters of insects. They habitually flick and fan their tail, which helps flush out insects from vegetation. They catch their prey on the wing or by short flights from perches. Their diet primarily consists of small flying insects, such as flies, mosquitoes, moths, and beetles.

Breeding and Nesting

Pīwakawaka breed during the New Zealand summer, forming monogamous pairs. They build small, cup-shaped nests using various materials, including grass, moss, and spider webs. The female lays a clutch of eggs, and both parents participate in incubation and raising the chicks. Pīwakawaka is known for its aggressive defence of its nests.

Conservation Status

The Pīwakawaka is not currently classified as a threatened species. They are widespread and adaptable birds that can thrive in various habitats. However, localised declines can occur due to habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, and competition with other bird species.

Trees and Plant Preferences

Pīwakawaka is attracted to various native trees and plants that provide them with perching spots, foraging opportunities, and nesting sites. They often inhabit areas with diverse vegetation, including native forests, shrublands, and gardens. They are particularly associated with trees and shrubs harbouring insects, such as kahikatea, tōtara, kōwhai, and flax.

Interesting Facts

  • Pīwakawaka are known for their friendly and curious behaviour, often approaching humans in search of insects stirred up by their movement.
  • They have a unique flight style, characterised by rapid changes in direction and occasional aerial acrobatics.
  • Pīwakawaka are known for their vocalisations, including a melodic and rapid series of chirping sounds.
  • Māori legends and traditions often associate Pīwakawaka with death or supernatural occurrences, considering them as messengers or companions of the spirits.
  • The fanned tail of the Pīwakawaka is believed to be a visual display used for communication, attracting mates, or signalling aggression.