Story: Small forest birds

Trained by a fantail

Trained by a fantail

Denis Knight's interactions with his local fantails have made him a big fan of this native bird.

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Contributed by Denis Knight

In 2009 the fantail was voted the most popular bird in Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year competition. I find these small insect-eating birds most endearing, and the fantail certainly got my vote.

These birds often approach us very closely, so people think they are naturally friendly. In fact the fantail is eagerly waiting for us to disturb insects as we walk through the bush. The fantail’s fan-shaped tail enables it to perform aerial acrobatics, while its sharp pointed beak is well-adapted for catching flying insects.

I have a pair living in a patch of bush behind the house. One of the birds invariably appears when I head out to the garden. It flies to a branch of a pine tree, where it perches above the compost bin and waits, jumping restlessly from side to side. It waits for me to open the lid of the bin and stir up the contents. A swarm of small insects emerge and the bird swoops down and captures a number of them before returning to its perch in the tree, where it waits for me to repeat the procedure. This performance can occur at any time of the year, but in spring it can last as long as 10 minutes.

The fantail that always flies up to greet me is always the same one. I know this because some of the bird’s tail feathers are damaged. This bird is always the one that catches the flies. The other is often nearby, but keeps a respectful distance.

I used to think that I had trained the fantail to do its perching and insect-catching trick, but on second thoughts I think it is the fantail that has trained me!

Using this item

Flickr: Birds of the South's photostream
Photograph by Roger Bird

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How to cite this page:

Christina Troup, 'Small forest birds - Fantails and silvereyes', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/community-contribution/31613/trained-by-a-fantail (accessed 16 October 2019)

Story by Christina Troup, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 17 Feb 2015