The New Zealand fantail (Rhipidura fuliginosa) is a small insectivorous bird, the only species of fantail in New Zealand. It has four subspecies: R. f. fuliginosa in the South Island, R. f. placabilis in the North Island, R. f. penita in the Chatham Islands, and the now-extinct R. f. cervina formerly on Lord Howe Island.
New Zealand Fantail
It is also known by its Maori names, Pīwakawaka, Tīwakawaka or Piwaiwaka; the common pied morph is also known as pied fantail (not to be confused with the Malaysian or Philippine pied fantails), and the uncommon dark morph is also known as black fantail (not to be confused with the black fantail of New Guinea). The species has been considered by many to be conspecific (the same) as the grey fantail of Australia and Ne
w Caledonia; however, due to significant differences in its calls, many authorities now treat it as a separate species.
This fantail is mid to dark grey or grey-brown above, yellowish/orange below, with a dark band across the chest below a white throat, white markings over the eye, and (depending on the race) either white-edged or entirely white outer tail feathers. It grows to 16 cm (6.3 in) in length, of which half is the tail, which, as the name implies, is often displayed fanned out. This reveals that the outer tail feathers that are light and the centre ones are dark. Some subspecies are found in a darker plumage, notably the „black fantail“ morph seen in 4% of South Island birds and less than 1% of North Island birds (it is completely absent from the Chatham Islands). The black morph lacks the white areas and so is dark all over apart from a white spot behind the eye.
Juveniles are similar to the adults but have a browner body and indistinct body markings.
During waking hours the bird is almost never still. It flits from perch to perch, sometimes on the ground but mostly on the twigs of a tree or any other convenient object, looking out for flying insects. The birds are not shy, and will often flit within a few metres of people, especially in forested areas and suburban gardens. In doing so, it is able to catch any small flying insects that may have been disturbed by human activities such as walking or digging. Under cold temperatures a flock of fantails will huddle to stay warm.
The bird’s call is an almost metallic cheek, either as a single sound or (more often) repeated as a chattering.