An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

  1. 54 Grey Fantail photo by Julian Robinson
  2. 090_grey_fantail_5_by_colin_mulvogue-cropped Photo by Colin Mulvogue

Grey Fantail

Rhipidura albiscapa


  • 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

  • Courting/mating
  • Calling
  • Feeding
  • 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!

Grey Fantail compiled distribution map - BirdLife International

Grey Fantail compiled distribution map - BirdLife International

Where To Look

Maps of Habitat Suitability


Current probability
of occurrence
2070 probability
of occurrence (RCP 8.5)
Species range change from
current to 2070 probability

Above, the left and middle maps show the modelled habitat suitability for the the species under current and potential future climate conditions. The colours indicate the predicted habitat suitability from low (white) to high (dark red).

The future habitat suitability is modelled for the year 2070 under a climate change scenario that represents 'business as usual' (RCP 8.5). The map on the right shows how the range of the species might change between now and 2070, with orange areas indicating where the species might disappear, green areas where the species range might expand, and blue areas where the habitat is predicted to be suitable for the species now and in the future.

The models for this species were run in the Biodiversity and Climate Change Virtual Laboratory. Please note that while models can be very informative, they are only a representation of the real world and thus should always be viewed with caution. You can read more about the science behind these models here.



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.

  1. Search Species

  1. What Else?

    • 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.
  1. 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

  1. Listen to the Call