I wrote elsewhere that if there's anything in metempsychosis, I want to come back as a Fantail. I had not realised until I met up with this feisty wee bird in New Zealand that the family to which it belongs, the Rhipiduridae, contains upward of fifty different species scattered throughout Australasia and South East Asia. The only other Fantail species I have seen is the Australian Willy Wagtail, which, as the name suggests, bears a superficial resemblance to our Pied Wagtail.
Anyway, the reason I am so taken with the New Zealand Fantail is not just its pretty appearance, wren-sized body, cheeky face and the amazing tail that gives it its vernacular name. That would be enough to make you love it, but it also has an endearing habit of flitting round you restlessly as you walk across the grass. One second its over your head, the next it is practically under your feet. It reminded me of the bluebird in the Walt Disney movie, Song of the South, where the old negro slave, Uncle Remus, sings Zippedy Doo Da (“Mr Bluebird on my shoulder, it's the truth, it's actual, everything am satisfactual!”).
I thought at first the Fantail was just welcoming another visitor the way most New Zealanders do, but I soon realised that it was waiting for my size 10 boots to kick some insects out of the grass for its breakfast. Our Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla flava) do the same around cattle.
So I'd quite like to come back as a New Zealand Fantail, because it's a fun bird in a beautiful country. And there's a bonus. Its scientific name is a bit of a mouthful: Rhipidura fuliginosa (rhipis, a fan; ouros, tail; fuliginosa, sooty). But the Maoris call it Pi-waka-waka. I wouldn't mind if people called me by such a pretty name.