Do Willie Wagtails Eat Ants?

Willie wagtails are a small bird that’s native to Australia, though they can be found on other islands in that part of the world. They’re so named because of their large, fanned-out tails that wag back and forth as they walk across the ground, foraging for food.

Willie wagtails are insectivores, feeding primarily on flying insects like moths and dragonflies, ticks off livestock, and spiders. They also forage on the ground for a significant part of their diet, eating ground-based insects like ants and millipedes as well.

Willie wagtails are a small bird that’s very common throughout Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and several other islands throughout Oceania. It’s at home in a variety of habitats, but avoids heavily forested areas like rainforests. Keep reading to learn all about these Australian birds.

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Do Willie Wagtails Eat Ants?

Willie wagtails are what are known as insectivores, feeding mainly on both crawling and flying insects. Among their most common sources of food are:

  • Moths
  • Dragonflies
  • Spiders
  • Grubs
  • Millipedes
  • Flies

While not specifically mentioned as a significant part of their diet, Willie wagtails have been known to eat ants and bees, and will also take advantage of bird seed and bread products when made available to them. Willie wagtails will often eat up to their own bodyweight in insects every day, making them welcome pest-control for many Australian hor.

The Willie wagtail is a variety of perching bird that’s found heavily concentrated across several islands throughout Oceania. It’s known as a passerine bird, which simply means that its toes are arranged in such a way as to allow it to perch easily. This family of birds also includes sparrows, finches, and various types of songbirds.

What They Look Like

Willie wagtails have black wings and backs, with a white breast. They also have very distinctive white eyebrows; which males use during mating. They have long fan-like tail feathers, which bob back and forth when they walk on the ground.

There isn’t much physical difference between male and female birds. Willie wagtails are better suited for walking on the ground than some other varieties of fantails; they have longer and stronger legs. These birds are popular in Australia because they have pleasant calls and they help control yard and garden variety pests.


Willie wagtails build their nests from animal fur, spider webs, hair, and grass, and their nests come out resembling a tennis ball, cut in half. They’ve been known to build a nest and live in it for their entire life if they have enough food in the area.

Wagtails are fiercely territorial, and will often harass much larger birds like kookaburras and magpies if they get too close to the willie’s perceived territory. They will also go after domestic pets and even humans if they approach their nest or foraging ground.

Willie Wagtail Diets

Willie wagtails are insectivores, getting most of their daily nutrition from any number of insects and spiders. They will eat both flying insects by catching them as they fly (known as hawking), as well as foraging on the ground for crawling or burrowing insects.

Livestock Parasites

Willie wagtails have been known to perch on livestock or zoo animals, picking ticks and other parasites off their hides. They typically kill their prey by bashing it against a hard surface or by pulling its wings off (for flying insects), then pecking at its body.

Seed and Bread

Willie wagtails have, of course, been known to be attracted to bread and bird seed; gardeners hoping to attract them can put out bread and seed and willie wagtails will likely come. Of course, active feeding of wild animals is as a general rule discouraged, as it creates animals that become dependent on human food and interaction.

Attracting Willie Wagtails

Wagtails are particularly welcome in Australian gardens, where they help control insect populations and spiders as well. Gardeners are encouraged to plant trees and plants that provide both a good environment for insects as well as provide good perches for the birds if they hope to attract them to their home. More details are listed in the table below:

Feature Reason
Dense, thick underbrush Allows for areas to nest and perch
Don’t use pesticides Willie wagtails eat bugs, pesticides both kill their food source and make them sick
Trees that attract spiders Willie wagtails both eat spiders and use their webs to make their nests
Free of domestic animals Pets may prey on willie wagtails and force them to nest elsewhere

Tail-Wagging in Foraging

Interestingly, their tail wagging seems to be involved in flushing insects from their hiding places. It’s thought that the sudden shadow from the tail wagging may encourage insects to move, thus making it easier for the bird to find them. This, in addition to wing flapping, are two common foraging techniques among birds.

Willie Wagtails’ Natural Habitats

They are best known in Australia, but they are also found in the Bismarck archipelago, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and Indonesia. They are at home in a variety of habitats, but aren’t found in great numbers in the various rainforests of the area.

Willie wagtails are best at home in areas where there are suitable trees for nesting, as well as ample open ground and sky for foraging and hawking. They’re pretty resilient birds who can survive in various environments.

Willie Wagtails in the Australian Culture

As a native animal, Willie wagtails feature prominently in the folklore of various Aboriginal tribes throughout Oceania. Their roles in these stories vary somewhat.

Tribes in New Zealand believed the birds were friendly and brought good luck, while tribes in Australia were suspicious of the bird and didn’t tell secrets around them, since they were eavesdroppers and would spread the secrets far and wide. Some tribes in Western Australia even believed the bird would tell dead relatives if it heard someone living speaking ill of them.

Wagtails were referred to as “djidi-djidi” by many tribes, a reference to the “chitty-chitty” type call they are often heard making. Their calls are very pleasant, and many Australians love to listen to them sing. There are references to the wagtail in modern society; there’s a town called Tambellup whose emblem is the willie wagtail, and they appear in children’s literature.

What are Their Natural Predators?

Cats and snakes are the natural predators of willie wagtails, and people trying to encourage them to nest in their gardens would do well to keep their domestic pets out of the area. Willies are highly territorial and don’t seem to fear larger creatures, though; even being known to go after cats.

They also guard their nests and young ferociously. A number of other bird species, particularly the Pallid Cuckoo, will attempt to lay their own eggs in wagtail nests, but the willie wagtail can usually spot the imposter egg and will eject it from the nest. Willie wagtail chicks usually mature in about two weeks after hatching.

Final Thoughts

Willie wagtails are a welcome native bird in Australia, as well as throughout Oceania. They’re an important part of Aboriginal folklore, and have endeared themselves to Australian gardeners both for their propensity for pest-control as well as their pleasant calls. These birds are primarily insectivores.

If you ever find yourself in Australia, you’ll likely see many of these black-and-white plumed birds running around on the ground, wagging their tails and flapping their wings as they hunt their prey. They will fiercely guard their territory from invaders, but they are a beloved part of Australian wildlife.