The fantail or pīwakawaka (Rhipidura fuliginosa) is 16 centimetres long, including its 8-centimetre tail. It weighs 8 grams. Most fantails are brown above and pale underneath. Their fan-like tail, usually held high above the body, is made up of long dark central feathers flanked by white feathers. About 20% of South Island fantails are completely black.
The fantail’s tail contributes to its distinctive flight – twisting and turning in the air as it catches insects in flight. Its call is like a kissing sound.
New Zealand’s fantails belong to three separate subspecies not found in Australia: one on each of the North, South and Chatham islands.
Fantails mainly eat insects. They build distinctive nests with hanging tails under protective foliage in tree forks, lay three or more speckled white eggs, and raise two to five broods in a season. The population fluctuates, but tends to recover quickly if it drops. The oldest bird known was three years. Fantails are common in forest, rural and urban environments.
Fantail fan club
Fantails topped a national poll as Bird of the Year in 2006. The birds appear tame and friendly – they follow people, snatching sandflies and other insects disturbed by human activity. They have also been great favourites with Māori, playing a prominent role in many legends.