By Mike Sowerby
When wandering through our West Beacy burb ‘Chit-chit-chit-chit’ is a familiar call we might hear morning, noon or evening. The ‘chatty’ willie wagtail wanting to strike up a conversation or alert us to some goings on, or keep us away from their young babies. We can see this ‘chatter’ reflected in the local Noongar name for the willie wagtail ,Djiti-Djiti (pronounced chitti-chitti).
Tiny, bold, dressed in black and white, dancing and jiving its merry ‘wagtail’ chitti- chitti are well adapted to urban life. They are highly resourceful, taking good advantage of a range of natural and human constructions to provide for their daily living and to provide safety while raising their young.
Chitti’s are one of the great recyclers in nature, gathering grass, spiderweb and even plucking fur from cats and dogs as they flit overhead, the spoils of which provide a soft lining for their beautiful nests.
Spiders are important partners to the chitti-chitti, and although an occasional food source, most importantly they provide the ‘glue’ for the chitti’s beautifully woven nest. Imagine the skill and patience it takes to weave web and grass to make this wonderful home, all done with your beak!
Chitti-Chitti’s generally pair for life, mostly lay 2, and up to 4 eggs per clutch, with up to 4 clutches of eggs per season.( breeding time is July-December).
Chitti eggs take two weeks to incubate, and with constant feeding by both parents two weeks later the youngsters have quickly filled the nest to overflowing ( see picture).One month from the time mum has laid her eggs, the young begin to fly and feed independently . Soon after this the parents drive off the hungry youngsters to fend for themselves, and it’s time to prepare for the next brood.
Chitti- Chitti’s are fearlessly territorial, I have photographed chitti-chitti chasing off birds of prey such as the osprey and whistling kite.
They feed mostly by ‘hawking’, catching flying insects in the air, or by hopping around on the lawn or in your veggie garden, keeping away those pesky cabbage moths, caterpillars, and other garden pests.
Chitti-Chitti’s either recycle or refurbish the same nest from one season to the next, and remarkably often live to a fine age of 15 years.
So next time you are having a cuppa, taking a walk, or working in the garden, strike up a yarn with this bundle of joy. Share a little time and space with our feathered gardening companion, arial dancer and master of recycling, what a great neighbour we have in chitti- chitti for our ‘ecoburb’.
(Many thanks to Birdlife Australia’s website for much of the information on the willie wagtail, and to Marion Kickett, local Noongar woman, for cultural information on the ‘djiti-djiti’. For further information please visit Birdlife Australia’s website.)