Backyard Buddies
Grey Fantail

Photo: Rosie Nicolai

Grey Fantail

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During winter, you may see a very hyperactive visitor in your garden. This little bird is very agile and graceful as it pursues insects and catches them mid-air. The Grey Fantail looks a lot like the Willie Wagtail or Rufous Fantail, but it is usually grey-brown with two small white bars on its wings, white eyebrows and a long, fanned tail that gives it its name.

Grey Fantails live all across Australia except for some areas in the interior of the country. Twisting and turning, Grey Fantails are aerial acrobats that are constantly hawking in search of food throughout the day. Its wildly irregular and erratic flight also gives it the nicknames of 'Mad Fan' and 'Cranky Fan'.

The song of the Grey Fantail sounds like a violin in tone. It is quite high-pitched and melodious as the song soars upwards. It is usually sung from a perch during the breeding season from August to January.

They feed on flying insects which they chase out from the edge of shrubs and bushes and snap up mid-ait.

The Grey Fantail also has a very pleasant call which it makes all year round. It sounds like tinkling whistles and squeaks, or a rapid double or single 'chip'.

If you want to spot a Grey Fantail, try calling out to them. This bird is quite fearless and very curious about people. It often responds to imitations of its call, and sometimes humming or kissing sounds.

To attract this bird to your garden, place a small bird bath next to a dense bush. This will provide shelter for the bird from the wind and also from predators such as Crows, Ravens, Butcher Birds and other birds of prey. Remember to keep the bird bath clean and with a decent level of water, or your Grey Fantail may come and chirp at you until you refill it.

During August, Grey Fantails start looking for a mate.

The male and female Grey Fantail together gather up plant fibres such as moss, bark and fine grasses and lots of cobwebs to build a nest in the fork of a tree or bush. They line the nest with feathers and fur to keep their fledglings warm against the last of the winter chills.

The parents share the duties of sitting on their two to four eggs for about two weeks, and both feed the chicks. These birds are very sensitive to interference with their nest and will desert it if it has been handled before the young are hatched.

After about three to four months, the youngsters are fully grown and look just like their parents.

Did you know?

Grey Fantails have whiskers. These bristles around the beak help to protect the bird's eyes from the aggressive insects it chases through the air and grabs mid-flight. They also give the bird information about how far away the insect is, what position the insect is in when it is caught, and also about airflow around its head.


Avoid using chemicals, pesticides or bug zappers in your garden as Grey Fantails love to zip after wasps, flies, bees, flying ants, beetles, dragonflies, damselflies and many other bugs. A Grey Fantail may even follow you as you walk around the garden or mow the lawn and disturb insects for them to eat.

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Photo: OEH