Sweet agitation

The sound of the Willie Wagtail is synonymous with the Australian bush, found in almost all habitats across the entire continent. For Indigenous Australians it has a special significance, both venerated and feared at the same time. Not surprisingly it features prominently in aboriginal folklore and language, known typically by local names that mirror its voice of ‘sweet agitation’.

While I’m sure the Dja Dja Wurrung people of central Victoria had a special name for the Willie Wagtail (help please!), the neighbouring Tjapwurrung call it tjerrap tjerrap, while the Wiradjuri further north know it as djirrijirri.

I was surprised to see this pair yesterday evening along the Loddon tending a nest. It is at least their second nesting effort for the season and the parents were not happy with my brief intrusion, displaying in typical fashion while I made my images and departed. Willie Wagtails almost always nest close to water, very sensible in this hot, dry landscape of ours.

Willie Wagtail, Loddon River @ Newstead, 2nd January 2019








  1. Dialects of Western Kulin, Western Victoria Yartwatjali, Tjapwurrung, Djadjawurrung, Barry J. Blake, La Trobe University
    2011. Click here to read.
  2. Wesson, S. (2001) Aboriginal flora and fauna names of Victoria: As extracted from early surveyors’ reports. Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Melbourne. Click here to read.

10 responses to “Sweet agitation

  1. Super shots Geoff, they are great little characters.

  2. Thanks, Geoff, perky little chaps, so gorgeous

  3. John Klimenti Gollan

    Hi Geoff, Annie Gray here. Just want to let you know that we have a Diamond dove at our property in Lawson Rd Macedon. It turned up about 3 days ago. Its unmistakeable. Its alone. Could it be out of an aviary? Its a lovely little thing. But way away from where it should be. We are on 045 7979 846. Cheers Annie. >

    • Dear Annie, Best wishes to you and Klim for 2019. The Diamond Dover observation is very interesting. It may well be an aviary escape but there are regular observations from across northern Victoria and occasionally further south. Not all of these it seems are aviary birds and they do move towards the coast during inland droughts. Cheers, Geoff

  4. Interestingly, in the Simpson Desert, these fab birds are found well away from any surface water. My experience at the eastern and western ends of the desert are that there was a Willie Wagtail at every campsite. And some Aboriginal Victorians see the Willie W as a warning, perhaps of death.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for the note. The association with water is interesting. The attachment is very strong when breeding, while outside the breeding season WWs are quite mobile. I suspect that in drier parts of the continent their breeding is episodic and linked to rain events, like many of the dry country birds. Cheers, Geoff

  5. The local peoples’ names for the wagtails are fun – both are onomatopoeic!

    On that topic my local peewee pair are constantly crying ‘peewee’ as they warn interlopers to stay away from the tree they’ve stashed their two chicks in. And the eastern koel male, when he gets a juicy morsel says ‘koel, koel’ excitedly. His lady then comes over and accepts the gift.

  6. Clodagh Norwood

    Is one of the reasons the Willie-wagtail nests near water is the accessibility to mud for nest-building? I had a pair near a regular puddle (when it rains) but otherwise there is little water nearby!

    • Hi Clodagh
      Willie Wagtails don’t routinely use mud in their nests – I suspect the link to water might be that it increases their access to prey – they often forage successfully along the edge of small dams, ponds and puddles. Cheers, Geoff

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