The fantail has many different Maori names. Tīwaiwaka, tīwakawaka and tīrairaka are you may have heard. Fantails have been in Aotearoa for a long time and some people assume they must be endemic but they are not. They were blown across the Tasman Sea. There are around ten species of fantails found in India, Asia, the Pacific and Australasia, with three species found in New Zealand.
This small, friendly bird is easily recognized because its long, black and white tail feathers look like a fan. It flits above us in the bush or park chasing insects we disturb and catching them midair. It likes catching moths, flies, spiders, beetles and wasps and keep company with flocks of waxeyes. It can live for about 3 years but rats will eat their eggs, and attack killing both chicks and nesting birds.
A pair of pīwakawaka can lay up to five clutches each season. As each clutch can have up to five white, brown speckled eggs they have a greater chance of survival than birds which lay fewer eggs each year however they don’t like cold wet weather and often die when storms sweep in. In winter they don’t begin flying until the sun has warmed the places where insects can be found.
A small number of pīwakawaka (4% of South Island fantails and 1% of North Island birds), called black fantail or black morph fantail, have very dark colouring. Morph means that the colouring is different but not rare. Birds which are unusually dark may have a rare condition called melanism (born with too much dark melanin pigment) which could be described as the opposite of leucism (born without no pigment).
- Radio NZ Bird Watching – Fantail
- DOC pīwakakwaka page
- Oiseaux-birds fantail page
- Zealandia fantail page