I love this crazy bird. And I’ve never really taken an interest in birds before living here. But New Zealand is home to some of the most exotic birds in the world, and this bird is one of my favorites— the fantail, (Rhipidura fuliginosa).
The Maori name is piwakawaka. The fantail is not a big bird, only about six inches long. It has no fancy colors or plumage like some of the more exotic birds found in New Zealand. The fantail is grey with a white band across its neck. In fact, if it were perched on a branch, it wouldn’t look like anything special—just a bird.
But the way it flies. When walking in the forest, it comes flying up within a few meters of you. Wait, that’s not right—it doesn’t really fly in a bird-like way. Rather it flutters around with a frenetic energy performing spastic aerial acrobatics. It puts on a show. Constantly active, it dives then stops in mid air, twirls and spreads its tail (hence its name) and darts off in another direction. Then it will land on a branch jitter around a little bit, spread its tail again like a Japanese geisha spreading and then closing her fan, before flitting off again continuing its flying antics often putting on its performance just a little above ground level. Sometimes it even walks around upside down on tree-fern fronds picking insects off.
I like its energy, friendliness and its crazy antics. And how it seems to dance around putting on a performance just for you, or perhaps welcoming you to its forest.
I’ve tried to take a picture of one. I never can. It stays still just long enough for you to find it in the viewfinder and then whizzes away. Lately I’ve stopped even trying to take out my phone or camera. All the photos I have show empty branches. My best shot has a blur off to one side.
This inquisitive and energetic bird is widely distributed throughout New Zealand. Its frantic activity is in part to flush out and eat insects. It makes a little cheet cheet sound. I can never see a fantail and not feel uplifted or happy just to be alive.
Here’s a video from YouTube of someone who actually was able to capture one on camera.