The Pied Fantail (Rhipidura javanica) is a small bird that is never still. The bird is constantly moving around, at the same time turning from side to side in a jerky way, lowering its wings, cocking up its head and constantly fanning its tail – opening and closing.
It moves alone or in pairs, disturbing insects among vegetation with its movements and the fanning of the tail, to sally forth once an insect is disturbed from its rest. Sometimes it perches on a branch, but never remaining in one place for long, to hawk for flies and other insects.
Its antics are always amusing to watch. So much so that the Malays call it merbok gila, gila meaning mad. It is also known as murai gila, meaning crazy songbird or thrush.
K.C. Tsang wrote: “This bird, according to the books, is supposed to be found in most areas in Singapore, from mangrove swamps, to parks, to gardens etc. In reality I have found it in the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Sg. Buloh Wetland Reserve. Maybe it has been hiding from me in, say, MacRitchie and other reservoirs. Also, I have found that it shares the same kind of food as the Ashy Tailorbird (Orthotomus ruficeps), taking insects from under leaf cover.
“It is an extremely shy bird and rarely do you find it out from under the cover of dense vegetation.”
Our bird specialist R. Subaraj replies: “It is primarily a mangrove species but is also found in smaller numbers in various parts of Singapore. They are commonest at places like Sungei Buloh, Pulau Ubin, Pasir Ris mangrove and other natural coastal areas. Inland sites include Singapore Botanic Gardens, Bukit Batok Nature Park and many of the areas that support old abandoned farmland, particularly where there is water.
“Although it is occasionally found on the edge, where old farmland exists, this species does not normally occur within our true forested areas and this includes most of the margins of the reservoirs within the Central Catchment, including MacRitchie.
“On the balance of things here, this is still a common and fairly widespread bird.”
Images by Chan Yoke Meng.