Willie wagtails on almost every corner

Willie wagtails are known for their distinctive chattering and can be found throughout the South West. Image supplied.
Willie wagtails are known for their distinctive chattering and can be found throughout the South West. Image supplied.

Wagtails are cheerful and friendly.

Their call is a sweet chattering: intrinsically Australian.

The Noongar people call these birds Djiti-djitis after their distinctive call, "chitty-chitty".

In Bunbury there is an Indigenous primary school called Djiti-djiti School.

Tambellup in the Great Southern is known as "The Friendly Town", and the Willie Wagtail is its emblem.

In the eastern Pilbara, the Nyangumarta women know that when the Wagtail returns it brings winter, and it's time to get out the blankets.

They call it "Jittirr" also because of the call.

Some believe that having a Willie Wagtail as your animal totem brings you to live with the feeling of excitement and gregariousness.

These small endearing birds make a neat, perfectly round nest, resembling half a tennis ball.

Made from fine grasses and bark, it is often lined with animal fur and bound together with cobwebs on the fork of a low branch.

It can be hazardous to negotiate a garden once they have taken up their nesting site, and the same pair can stay for years with birds living 12 - 15 years old. Individual Wagtails can be identified by their behaviour and habits.

One bird will eat its own bodyweight in insects every day, and they are naturals at helping to keep pesky flies and mosquitoes at bay.

On the other hand, they can be feisty, a tiny bird that punches above its weight, and will send off in no uncertain terms larger birds that trespass in their territory at nesting time.

In our garden, the neighbourhood Magpies are not tolerated, nor are they allowed to cross the roadside verge during nesting season, such is the ninja-like ferocity of our Wagtail pair.

I recall my mother, in the early 1990s commenting that Wagtails were beginning to re-appear in Perth gardens after a long absence.

In the 1960s and 70s, widespread spraying of poisons was used to combat the plague of introduced Argentinean ants and it all but wiped out the Willie Wagtails, and tiny garden skinks as these poisons were not insect species specific, and killed off many varieties of invertebrate life.

Thankfully that practice stopped and the birds have made a comeback and are plentiful. Nowadays there is a pair of Willie Wagtails almost on every street corner.