- Colour: its head and upperparts are mostly dark grey, with a white eyebrow and throat, a narrow grey band across the upper breast and a creamy-buff belly. The feathers of its long tail have white edges and tips, and the tail is often fanned out.
- Size: 14 – 16 cm long.
- Call: tinkling whistles and squeaks, which may be repeated to develop a song.
- Diet: flying insects, which are caught in the air by chasing them, usually after launching from the edge of foliage of trees or shrubs. Insects may be caught at all levels of the canopy.
- Movement: agile but erratic flight with characteristic aerial twists and turns which make it easy to recognise. Many populations appear to undertake seasonal movements, with some migrating north during autumn and winter, and others moving to lower elevations during the cooler months.
- Breeding: both parents build the nest in the narrow fork of a tree, 2–5 metres above the ground; it is made of fine grass held together with spider webs. The bottom of the nest may have a long, tapering stem resembling a wine glass. Two or three spotted, pale buff eggs are laid and then incubated both parents for 14 days. Then both parents feed the chicks for 12 days, after which the young fledge.
What to Observe
- Bird on chicks
- Bird on eggs
- Bird on nest
- Bird feeding young
ClimateWatch Science Advisor
The effects of climate change may influence a change in the timing of movements by Grey Fantails, or even make them redundant. It may also affect the timing of when they start to breed and the duration of their breeding activities. Help scientists answer the question: "How are our animals, plants and ecosystems responding to climate change?" by recording the observations above.
When To Look
- From July to January for breeding behaviour.
- During autumn and winter for migratory birds.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes in the timing of these events so remember to keep a lookout from June for breeding behaviour!
Where To Look
- In most treed habitats, including forests, woodlands and coastal scrub. It also visits urban gardens.
- Throughout much of eastern and western Australia, and also in central regions.
- Look in forests and woodlands, and also in trees and shrubs of urban gardens, especially during autumn–winter migration.
Note: ClimateWatch is looking for any changes outside of their known ranges so remember to keep a lookout anywhere in Australia!
Boles W 1988. The Robins and Flycatchers of Australia. Angus and Robertson and The National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
Higgins PJ, Peter, JM & Cowling, SJ (eds) 2006. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Vol. 7 Part A Boatbill to Larks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Morcombe M 2000. Field guide to Australian Birds. Steve Parish Publishing.
Pizzey G and Knight F 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
Simpson K and Day N 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition. Penguin Books, Australia.
Both C, Artemyev AV, Blaauw B, Cowie RJ, Dekhuijzen AJ, Eeva T, Enemar A, Gustafsson L, Ivankina EV, Jarvinen A, Metcalfe NB, Nyholm NEI, Potti J, Ravussin P, Sanz JJ, Silverin B, Slater FM, Sokolov LV, Torok J, Winkel W, Wright J, Zang H, and Visser ME 2004. Large-scale geographical variation confirms that climate change causes birds to lay earlier. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 271: 1657–1662.
Hughes, L 2003. Climate change and Australia: Trends, projections and impacts. Austral Ecology 28: 423–443.
Walther G, Post E, Convey P, Menzel A, Parmesan C, Beebee TJC, Fromentin J, Hoegh-Guldberg O, and Bairlein F 2002. Ecological responses to recent climate change. Nature 416: 389–395.
- Mangrove Grey Fantail (Rhipidura phasiana): is very similar but is generally paler, looking like a “washed-out” Grey Fantail, and is exclusively confined to mangroves between Shark Bay and western Cape York Peninsula in northern Australia, where Grey Fantails rarely, if ever, occur.
- Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys): is slightly larger, and is black and white, lacking the shades of grey on its body and wings; it lacks a white patch on its throat and white edging and tips to its tail feathers.
- Northern Fantail (Rhipidura rufiventris): is a larger bird with a larger, broader bill. It seldom fans its tail (which is not tilted upwards) and is generally much less restless. Its breast band is overlain with pale streaks.
- Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons): has an orange-red forehead, back, rump and base of tail and rump, and a mottled, scaly pattern on its breast.
Did You Know?
The Grey Fantail was once divided into ten separate races, five of which occurred in Australia with the remainder in New Zealand, New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. These have now been broken up into four separate species, the Grey Fantail, Mangrove Grey Fantail, Northern Fantail and New Zealand Fantail, all of which can be seen in different parts of Australia.
Its average weight is only 9 grams.
The call recording is by David Stewart Naturesound
Listen to the Call