My special friends (1): Fantails
I have often mentioned them as they are such enchanting birds, making you believe that they fly around you because they find you so nice and not the insects that fly around you. And I must say, they do not only enjoy the food that you make swirl up when walking around. I am sure they also enjoy the human company. And they are everywhere around in the Awa Awa Rata Reserve, and also at many other places in the forests of the wider Methven area.
The Latin name of the fantail is Phipidura fuliginosa.
The Maori name is Piwakawaka. Once I had a fantail in my garden who had lost his tail, either by a cat attack or going through moulting. As soon as I went to the garden the fantail arrived as if he had waited for me, sat down on a branch, and told me his story, and he stayed sitting there, and I spoke to him and he spoke to me, and so we spent several minutes every day chatting to each other. Other fantails in the garden have displayed the same behaviour.
The fantails also seem to enjoy you calling them. When I talk to them, or whistle, they always answer, even if they do not come close at the end. But most of them even fly rather long distances to check out who is talking to them.
Whereas I have regular fantail visitors in the garden nothing compares to the lots of fantails you might see or meet in the Mt. Somers area. The Alder Track in the Awa Awa Rata Reserve is fantastic, and my number two place in this region would be the low track of the Sharplin Falls walk at Woolshed Creek.
The lovely thing about the fantails is how they dance in the air and perform aerobatics. They are kind of restlessly moving, twisting and jerking on a perch, fanning their long tail feathers like a peacock. The small head is lovely, and the cutest thing is a kind of little white eyebrow.
Not all fantails have a brown upper body, ochre underparts, and white and black bands across the chest. Some fantails are totally black, called black-phase fantails. They make up 15 to 25 per cent of the South Island’s fantail population. This number seems a little high to me, regarding my birdwatching results. In the North Island they are extremely rare.
They do not only forage in the forest but also love to fly around or sit on the highest trees in open shrubland, in hedges, and river margins – everywhere where insects are found abundantly. It is a tough job for fantails to survive a cold winter. They stay long in their sleeping-trees until they fly out for searching food.