Willy wagtail a horse’s best friend

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
An adult Willie wagtail.
Camera IconAn adult Willie wagtail. Credit: Richard McLellan

Birdlife is a series by The Geraldton Guardian reporter Geoff Vivian, drawing on the knowledge of local people.

One of the birds you can see year round in Geraldton and beyond is the Willie wagtail, known in many Aboriginal languages as the jirri-jirri or chitty-chitty.

Amangu elder Clarrie Cameron, who spent his early life in station country around Cue, Meekatharra and Wiluna, said the jirri-jirri was known in the bush as the “horse’s friend”.

“Even when I was a little fella, we always know if that jirri-jirri is coming in for water, that horse will be coming in for water,” he said.

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“When you are on a station and you’ve got horses around the homestead, you always see ‘em together.

“He fiddles around and rides the horse on his back. They’re the best mates.”

The Willie wagtail is constantly flitting about as it hunts small insects.

It will not hesitate to attack a magpie or Australian raven that comes too close to its nest.

The Willie wagtail will fly around and around the larger bird, harassing it until it leaves the area.

Geraldton birdwatcher Pauline Winrow said she was struck by the bird’s devotion to its young.

“I have seen one sitting on the nest of nestlings in teaming rain getting very wet,” she said.

Geraldton photographer Mike Lawrie sent in some pictures of a young Willie wagtail he took at Ellendale Pool in October.

“I had gone out to Ellendale Pool initially looking for a Peregrine falcon, which I didn't see, and spotted this youngster on the ground at the base of a tree,” he said.

“As I watched and waited, it worked its way up a smaller tree trunk leaning out over the water and presented many opportunities to highlight its fine, developing feathers. An adult bird waited in the wings with a moth in its beak for tea but higher in the tree and backlit — did not present well for a photograph.”

While Willie wagtails can be found in almost any part of Australia they prefer open or cleared country.

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