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As plain as black and white

March 30, 2021

A lot has been said about the LBJ’s (little brown jobs) – those hard to identify birds that flit around the treetops. At the moment I am having trouble identifying B&W’s (black and white) birds.

Willy Wagtail

It must have been a bumper breeding season for Willy Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys) this year. They seem to be everywhere. Wagtails are a type of fantail so called because of the habit of wagging their tails when foraging on the ground for insects. They aggressively protect their territory particularly nesting sites and will chase off much larger ‘chick-stealing’ birds such as magpies, currawongs and kookaburras. Wagtails inhabit most habitats except dense forests. At Flowerdale on our open-forested land I have never seen them on the property but will often see them on the boundary fence next to the neighbour’s open pasture.

Restless Flycatcher

The other black and white bird around at the moment that superficially looks the same as a Willie Wagtail but is more slender is the Restless Flycatcher (Myiagra inquieta). It is one of several flycatcher species in the district. The Restless Flycatcher is distinguished from other flycatchers by its white throat. Like the Willie Wagtail it is also an insectivore, the Flycatcher preferring to hunt mid-canopy, rarely on the ground.

Pictured side by side the differences are obvious. The Flycatcher lacks the black throat and white eyebrow of the Wagtail. They are more easily distinguished at a distance by their calls. The Willie Wagtail has the familiar ‘chittering’ sound whereas the Restless Flycatcher has an unusual ‘scissor-grinding’ sound.

Restless Flycatcher call (below)

Restless Flycatcher
Willy Wagtail

Discernment is sometimes in the ‘ear of the beholder’.

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