Backyard Buddies
Rufous Fantail

Photo: Ken Stepnell/OEH

Rufous Fantail

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The Rufous Fantail is a member of the fantail family and lives in northern and eastern coastal Australia.

In March, adult Rufous Fantails in southern Australia have almost finished migrating north. Younger Rufous Fantails will be following them during March and April. During migration, they often visit more open habitats including our gardens and parks.

You'll recognise the Rufous Fantail by its 'rufous' or reddy-brown colouring on its brow, back and tail feathers, and secondly, by its fanned tail, which is almost twice as wide as its body. Unlike many bird species where the male has the more impressive plumage, the female Rufous Fantail is just as brightly coloured, if a little smaller.

Listen out for Rufous Fantails calling with a series of thin whistles with rising pitch, or making a single or double 'chip'. Their call can serve as both an alarm to warn off predators when hunting for food or as a way to attract a mate.

To encourage these birds in your backyard, include a bird bath and keep it filled with clean water. To make them feel doubly welcome, plant an understory of local native spiky shrubs so they have somewhere close by to hide.

The Rufous Fantail can be wary of people. It is very quick, flitting from place to place like its cousins the Grey Fantail and Willie Wagtail, and it often hides behind leaves. If you stay still and wait quietly a while, it may lose its fear and come up quite close to you.

Once Rufous Fantails pair up, both the male and the female look for the best place to nest, which is often a shady spot in the fork of a branch. They build a delicate nest out of fine grasses and small roots bound with cobwebs and lined with thin, soft leaves. The nest has a stem that extends from the bottom, and is like a wine glass in shape.

While feeding, the Rufous Fantail keeps quite low to the ground. Look out for them showing off with some aerial acrobatics as they catch flying insects, or skip between promising piles of leaf litter. They constantly fan their tails and flick their wings and body while looking for food.


Avoid using chemicals and pesticides in your garden. Poison will accumulate in a bird's system over time as it eats more pesticide-affected bugs, and it could become sick or die.

Did you know?

Sometimes Rufous Fantails join forces with other birds to hunt out the small insects they love to eat. A Rufous Fantail might team up with the Spectacled Monarch, Large-Billed Scrubwren, Green-Backed Honeyeater and the Little Shrike-thrush.

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Photo: OEH