The main street of Noosa Heads, Hastings Street, is lined with restaurants, chic boutiques and a surf club. Few people walking along would have noticed a head-high branch in a little tree where two Willie Wagtails were putting the finishing touches to their nest.
One flew in with some strands of fibrous material.
It bent forward into the nest and pressed down the fibres.
I couldn’t quite see what happened next, but it seemed to involve a lot of scrabbling with beak and feet, with its tail high in the air.
Then it turned around and went on scrabbling whilst facing me:
Finally, it sat up to survey the result, and seemed satisfied. Its partner flew in, seemingly without any nesting material, and the first bird moved away to make room.
A passerby saw what I was photographing, and commented that it seemed an unwise place to build a nest. It was right over a public bench at the side of the street, so close that I had to sit at the far end of the bench in order to squeeze the bird into the photo frame. So, yes, at the time I agreed that it seemed an odd choice.
Later, I wasn’t so sure. Willie Wagtails are often seen near human settlement, and are popular with people because of their entertaining behaviour. The passing parade of humanity in Noosa would scare away many of the hazards faced by birds protecting their eggs and chicks – such as snakes and goannas and cuckoos. Other birds could still pose a threat – those who frequently hang around people, such as kookaburras, magpies and crows. Overall, though, the site was probably a clever choice. The nest itself was a neat cup made of leaves and fibres and lined with cobwebs.
The Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is not related to the bird family called wagtails, as their name suggests, but are large fantails found all over Australia. They have much the same tail-wagging and wing-fanning behaviour as their smaller fantail cousins, but are typically found in more open country, foraging for insects. The next photo (of a different bird) shows one in a typical wagtail pose.
In favourable conditions, wagtails can raise up to four broods of 2 or 3 young each year, so their Australia-wide distribution and “least threatened” extinction status are not surprising. They aren’t always successful though. A couple of days after I took the earlier photos, I went into Noosa at night to take another photo of the nest. It seemed to be abandoned. Perhaps the choice of site hadn’t been so sensible after all?
But when I drove through Noosa on my last day and stopped for pedestrians in Hastings Street, I was happy to see the dark shape of a wagtail sitting on the nest once more.