Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys Click to enlarge image
Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys Image: diana_shang

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    Approximately 20cm (including tail)

What do Willie Wagtails look like?


The Willie Wagtail is a small, black and white fantail that sports a white chest and belly, with black plumage on the head, throat, back, wings and tail. The tail is long and rounded. The species also has a distinctive white “eye-brow”. Young birds are more brown and duller than adults. Adult males and females appear similar.

Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys
Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys. Image: Taylor

Where do Willie Wagtails live?


The Willie Wagtail is common throughout the Australian mainland, and is vagrant to Tasmania; it occurs on Kangaroo Island. The species is also found in the Torres Strait, New Guinea, Moluccas and the Solomon Islands. There are three recognized subspecies.


The species can be found in almost all habitats throughout Australia, including grasslands, open woodlands, dry woodlands and forests. Also found in urban parks and gardens, golf courses and sporting fields. They are generally absent from rainforests.

What do Willie Wagtails eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

The Willie Wagtail forages both from a perch and also on the ground. It hunts for insects such as beetles, larvae as well as flies, spiders, wasps, bees, ants and grasshoppers. As the name suggests the species will wag its tail from side to side (as well as briefly flash its wings) while foraging, while making short zig-zagging runs along the ground in an effort to flush insects from the ground cover.


Communication: The species is very vocal, and has a variety of calls, including the ‘chittit-chittit-chittit’ contact call; this same call is much harsher when the birds are mobbing predators. It also makes a melodious whistle-type call. Birds also sing at night during the breeding season.

How do Willie Wagtails mate?

Breeding behaviours

Willie Wagtails construct their nests using fine dry soft grasses and other plant material that is woven together in a neat cup shape using spider webbing. The use of spiders webbing around the outside of the nest cup is what gives the nest an overall grey appearance. The nest is lined with fine grasses, and can also include animal hair or fur, and feathers. The nest can be constructed on a thin tree branch, in shrubs, and on rafters underneath verandahs or inside old sheds. Both sexes contribute to building the nest, share the incubation of the eggs and feed the chicks.

Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys
Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys.. Image: Mark Ayers

  • Breeding season

    Mostly from August to January in Australia, but can breed throughout the year if conditions are suitable.

  • Clutch size

    Up to four eggs can be laid, usually clutch of three eggs.

  • Incubation

    Between 12 – 16 days, usually 14 days.


The Birds of Australia online publication

Delve into The Birds of Australia online publication and discover the incredible world of Australian birdlife. Trace the journey of ornithologist John Gould and his wife Elizabeth on one of the most significant birding expeditions in history and learn about the unique and diverse bird species in Australia.

Explore now

  • Beruldsen, G. & Chapman, G. (2003). Australian birds, their nests and eggs. Queensland : G. Beruldsen.
  • Fraser, I., & Gray, J. & CSIRO. (2013). Australian bird names : a complete guide. Collingwood, VIC : CSIRO Publishing.
  • Higgins, P.J., Peter, J.M., and Cowling, S.J. (Eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 7 (Boatbill to Starlings). Melbourne : Oxford University Press.
  • Menkhorst, P., Rogers, D., Clarke, R., Davies, J.N., Marsack, P., Franklin, K. & CSIRO, issuing body (2017). The Australian Bird Guide. Clayton South, VIC : CSIRO Publishing.