Grey fantails are found all over the Mitta Valley. I recently observed one whilst sitting with Margie and Shane Tobin of Mitta North Road in their back yard, it was flitting from bush to bush looking for insects and fanning its gorgeous fantail.
The Grey Fantail is a small insectivorous bird most easily recognised by its constantly fanned tail and agile aerial twists and turns. Both sexes are similar in appearance: grey above, with white eyebrow, throat and tail edges. This species is quite inquisitive and will closely approach an observer. It grows to16 cm (6.3 in) in length, of which half is the tail, which, as the name implies, is often displayed fanned out.
The Grey fantail is found in most treed habitats. This species is easily seen while walking in eucalypt forest, rainforest, mangroves, heath, and wooded habitat. It occasionally visits densely-planted urban gardens, particularly during the winter migration.
The grey fantail feeds on flying insects, which it catches by chasing them from the edge of foliage at all levels in the canopy. During waking hours, they are almost never still. They flit from perch to perch, sometimes on the ground but mostly on the twigs of a tree or any other convenient object, looking out for flying insects. They catch flying insects using intricate acrobatic chases. The birds are not shy, and will often flit within a few metres of people, especially in forested areas and suburban gardens. In doing so, it can catch any small flying insects that may have been disturbed by human activities such as walking or digging. The bird’s call is an almost metallic cheek, either as a single sound or (more often) repeated as a chattering. The grey fantail appears to undergo a partial northern migration during winter.
The Grey Fantail builds its nest in a thin tree-fork, usually between 2 and 5 metres from the ground. It is made of fine grass bound together with large amounts of spider web. The bottom of the nest is drawn out into a long stem, resembling that of a wine-glass. Both parents share nest-building, incubation of the eggs and feeding of the young when they hatch.
Most bird species typically build one nest, whereas grey fantails commonly build more than one nest before egg-laying. It is thought that these nests could act a decoy to confuse predators. The abandoned nests are incompletely built, probably in response to the attention of predators such as pied currawongs who destroy nests whilst looking for eggs. The grey fantail is territorial and is a seasonal breeder. They raise several broods per season, usually of three or four cream eggs, spotted grey and brown. The incubation period is around two weeks, with incubation and feeding duties shared by both parents. Despite most grey fantails forming season-long monogamous pairs, a small number of male birds seeking extra-pair copulation have been recorded.
The Grey Fantail conservation status is secure throughout Australia except in Northern Territory where it is critically endangered.
Birdlife Australia Magazine
Field Guide to Australian Birds -Michael Morcombe