Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - Bonn
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Rhipidura rufifrons [592]
Family Dicruridae:Passeriformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Latham,1801)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

The Convention on Migratory Species (the Bonn Convention) uses Morony and colleagues (1975) treatment of bird species. As such, this species is Migratory under the family Muscicapidae (sensu lato) under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Scientific name: Rhipidura rufifrons

Common name: Rufous Fantail

The Rufous Fantail is known to have two subspecies in Australia: R. r. rufifrons and R. r. intermedia (AFD 2010; Higgins et al. 2006). The Arafura Fantail (R. dryas) has previously been considered a subspecies (Higgins et al. 2006), but is now accepted as a species (AFD 2010). The Arafura Fantail occurs across much of northern Australia, from coastal west Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf Country, through Northern Territory, mostly north of 14°S, and west to coastal areas of the Kimberley region, Western Australia (Higgins et al. 2006; Schodde & Mason 1999).

Rufous Fantail adults are medium sized birds, generally ranging from 14.5–18.5 cm in length (with an average of 15 cm); their wingspan is between 18–22.5 cm (with an average of 21 cm). They weigh approximately 10 g. The male and female of the species look identical, however, females are generally smaller than the males (Higgins et al. 2006). The forehead is a rich reddish-brown colour across the eyes. The eyes have a white arc underneath. The top of the head, back of the neck and the upper back, transition from an olive to reddish-brown colour, which then blends into a blackish-brown, long, fan-shaped tail. This blackish-brown tail, contrasts with the base of the tail, which is tipped with a paler colour, often white (Higgins et al. 2006).

The Rufous Fantail has black ear-coverts (feathers over the ears, just below and behind the eyes). The throat is white (in most subspecies), and there is a black bar across the upper breast. Below this, the lower breast is off-white with black scale-like spots which transitions into an off-white colour towards the centre of the abdomen. The eyes, bill and feet of the bird are all a brown colour (Higgins et al. 2006). Juveniles have generally duller coloured backs and marginally browner tails and underparts. The base of a juvenile's bill and legs are a paler brown relative to an adult's (Higgins et al. 2006). The plumage in the immature birds is similar to that of adults. Adults moult annually prior to the breeding season, and this basic plumage does not vary (Higgins et al. 2006).

The Rufous Fantail occurs in coastal and near coastal districts of northern and eastern Australia (Lindsey 1992). Rhipidura rufifrons rufifrons has breeding populations occurring from about the South Australia-Victoria border, through south and central Victoria, on and east of the Great Divide in New South Wales (NSW), and north to about the NSW-Queensland border; and R. r. intermedia has breeding populations occurring on and east of the Great Divide, from about the NSW-Queensland border, north to the Cairns-Atherton region, Queensland (Higgins et al. 2006). Both subspecies winter farther north from Cape York Peninsula in Queensland to Torres Strait and southern Papua New Guinea. The two subspecies intergrade in a zone between the Queensland-NSW border ranges and the Clarence-Orara rivers in NSW (Scodde & Mason 1999).

There is no evidence for historical changes in the distribution of the Rufous Fantail in Australia (Blakers et al. 1984), although populations around Nanango, south-east Queensland, are said to have declined since the 1940s (Templeton 1992). There is one historical record from Tasmania, in March 1945, but this was probably a vagrant (Sharland 1946). Estimates of population density vary from 0.02 birds/ha near Canberra (Bell 1980) to 2.66 birds/ha at Lower Bucca State Forest in north-east NSW (Huggett 2000).

The Rufous Fantail is widespread from the Mariana Islands, south through Yap (Caroline Islands), to Sulawesi, the Moluccas and Lesser Sundas, east through southern Papua New Guinea, Louisiade Archipelago and Santa Cruz, to the Solomon Islands and Micronesia, and south to Australia (Coates 1990a; Pratt et al. 1987; White & Bruce 1986).

The Rufous Fantail is a common and secure species (Blakers et al. 1984).

In east and south-east Australia, the Rufous Fantail mainly inhabits wet sclerophyll forests, often in gullies dominated by eucalypts such as Tallow-wood (Eucalyptus microcorys), Mountain Grey Gum (E. cypellocarpa), Narrow-leaved Peppermint (E. radiata), Mountain Ash (E. regnans), Alpine Ash (E. delegatensis), Blackbutt (E. pilularis) or Red Mahogany (E. resinifera); usually with a dense shrubby understorey often including ferns. They also occur in subtropical and temperate rainforests; for example near Bega in south-east NSW, where they are recorded in temperate Lilly Pilly (Acmena smithi) rainforest, with Grey Myrtle (Backhousia myrtifolia), Sassafras (Doryphora sassafras) and Sweet Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum) subdominants. They occasionally occur in secondary regrowth, following logging or disturbance in forests or rainforests. When on passage, they are sometimes recorded in drier sclerophyll forests and woodlands, including Spotted Gum (Eucalyptus maculata), Yellow Box (E. melliodora), ironbarks or stringybarks, often with a shrubby or heath understorey. They are also recorded from parks and gardens when on passage. In north and north-east Australia, they often occur in tropical rainforest and monsoon rainforests, including semi-evergreen mesophyll vine forests, semi-deciduous vine thickets or thickets of Paperbarks (Melaleuca spp.) (Higgins et al. 2006).

The Rufous Fantail is usually seen singly or in pairs, but occasionally in small groups (Higgins et al. 2006). On winter passage, such as in Torres Strait, they have been seen in small flocks (Draffan et al. 1983; Higgins et al. 2006). There is little known about life-span, but one adult banded in the Brindabella Ranges in the Australian Capital Territory, was retrapped at the same site over nine years later (Anon. 1975). There is evidence from banding studies to indicate that birds probably return to, or move through, the same location each season (Hardy & Farrell 1990; Higgins et al. 2006; Lane 1969).

The Rufous Fantail breeds from about September to February, with 81% of eggs laid November-December (Higgins et al. 2006). At elevations of >600 m above sea level in south-east Australia, they breed November to January (Frith 1969). Two or three, sometimes four, eggs are laid in a small cup-shaped nest which is usually made from grass, roots, fine strips of bark, plant-fibre, decayed wood, moss and spider web (Higgins et al. 2006). The nest is placed in a tree, shrub or vine, between 0.34–6.0 m above the ground, the average height being 1.6 m (Higgins et al. 2006). Nests are placed in a wide variety of plant species, including Blackberries (Rubus fruticosa), Musk Daisybush (Olearia argophylla), eucalypts (e.g. Swamp Mahogany (E. robusta)), Coprosma spp. (e.g. Prickly Currant Bush (C. quadrifida)), Bursaria spp. (e.g. Sweet Bursaria (B. spinulosa)), tree-ferns such as Cyathea spp., and many other genera (Higgins et al. 2006). It is suggested that plants with large leaves, such as Rose Walnut (Endiandra discolor) and Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), are selected as nest-sites because their foliage hides or shelters nests (Huggett 2000). Both sexes incubate, and re-laying may occur if the first nesting attempt is unsuccessful (Higgins et al. 2006). The incubation period is 15–17 days (Huggett 2000). Where outcome was known, of 52 nests, 28 nests fledged at least one young and 24 failed (Higgins et al. 2006). There is no information concerning seasonal or other conditions required for breeding.

The Rufous Fantail forages mainly in the low to middle strata of forests, sometimes in or below the canopy or on the ground; in northern Australia they also forage in mangroves (Higgins et al. 2006). One example of a detailed study was in Five Day Creek Valley, NSW: of 719 feeding observations, about 1% were on the ground, about 42% were 0.1–3 m above ground, about 41% were 3.1–9 m, about 14% were 9.1–18 m, and about 2% were >15 m above the ground (Cameron 1985). In Paluma Range in Queensland, they tend to forage more at lower levels during the wet season than in the dry season (Frith 1984). They mostly forage aerially by sallying, but also glean food items from foliage and occasionally from the ground and fallen debris (Higgins et al. 2006). They are insectivorous; in Five Day Creek Valley, NSW, of 272 items from 14 stomachs, 4% of items were spiders, with the remaining 96% being insects from various orders, including Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera (Cameron 1985).

Movement patterns are not fully understood, but some populations of the Rufous Fantail in east Australia are migratory. Rhipidura rufifrons intermedia populations possibly move altitudinally in the Atherton Region (Wet Tropics) where reporting rates >500 m above sea level were 37% in summer and 0% in winter (Blakers et al. 1984); around Innisfail in north-east Queensland, they are absent from highlands between April-October (Gill 1970); some birds may winter from Cape York Peninsula north to Torres Strait and southern Papua New Guinea (Schodde & Mason 1999); other populations may be resident (Higgins et al. 2006).

Rhipidura rufifrons rufifrons is migratory, being virtually absent from south-east Australia in winter (Higgins et al. 2006). In south-east Australia, reporting rates were 13.5% in summer and 0.7% in winter (Blakers et al. 1984). In south-east Australia, departure from the breeding areas is usually March to early April, sometimes as early as February. A few birds remain in all months (Morris et al. 1981), but most spend the winter in coastal lowlands and off-shore islands in south-east Queensland, north to Cape York Peninsula and Torres Strait Island. R. r. rufifrons also migrates as far north as south Papua New Guinea, where they have been recorded from August to mid-November. In Five Day Creek Valley in north-east NSW, they depart the breeding grounds before food becomes scarce, and the timing of departure may be determined by factors such as annual rainfall or decline in plant growth (Cameron 1985). The return to the breeding grounds occurs August to December, with south passage through Torres Strait recorded in September to October, and through Queensland mainly from October to November; birds arrive back in south-east Australia mostly in September to November, sometimes as late as December. There is no information concerning feeding or roosting sites during migration (Higgins et al 2006).

The main threat to populations of Rufous Fantail is probably fragmentation and loss of core moist forest breeding habitat through land clearing and urbanisation; especially forest remnants and corridors along the species' migration routes (Huggett 2000). In Mountain Ash forests in central Victoria, they have been recorded in logged areas after about 4 years after logging (Loyn 1985a). In Lower Bucca State Forest in north-east NSW, birds forage more in retained forest compared with clear-felled areas. After logging, birds tend to forage more in the lower canopy and less in woody piles and dense shrub regrowth (Huggett 2000).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Agriculture and Aquaculture:Agriculture and Aquaculture:Land clearing, habitat fragmentation and/or habitat degradation Rhipidura rufifrons in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wu) [Internet].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Indirect Ecosystem Effects:Loss and/or fragmentation of habitat and/or subpopulations Rhipidura rufifrons in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wu) [Internet].
Residential and Commercial Development:Housing and Urban Areas:Habitat loss, modification and fragmentation due to urban development Rhipidura rufifrons in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006wu) [Internet].

Anon (1975). Recovery round-up. Australian Bird Bander. 13:83-85.

Australian Faunal Directory (AFD) (2010). Australian Faunal Directory. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 30-May-2010].

Bell, H.L. (1980). The effects of a power-line clearing on birds of dry sclerophyll forest at Black Mountain Reserve, Australian Capital Territory. Corella. 4:8-19.

Blakers, M., S.J.J.F. Davies & P.N. Reilly (1984). The Atlas of Australian Birds. Melbourne, Victoria: Melbourne University Press.

Cameron, E. (1985). Habitat usage and foraging behaviour of three fantails. In: Keast, A., H.F. Recher, H. Ford & D. Saunders, eds. Birds of Eucalypt Forests and Woodlands: Ecology, Conservation and Management. Page(s) 177-191. Surrey Beatty & Sons, Chipping Norton, NSW.

Coates, B.J. (1990a). The Birds of Papua New Guinea Including the Bismarck Archipelago and Bougainville. Volume 2 Passerines. Alderley, Queensland: Dove Publications.

Draffan, R.D.W., S.T. Garnett & G.J. Malone (1983). Birds of the Torres Strait: an annotated list and biogeographic analysis. Emu. 83:207-234.

Frith, D.W. (1984). Foraging ecology of birds in an upland tropical rainforest in northern Queensland. Wildlife Research. 11:325-347.

Frith, H.J. (1969). Birds in the Australian High Country. Sydney: Reed.

Gill, H.B. (1970). Birds of Innisfail and hinterland. Emu. 70:105-116.

Hardy, J.W. & J.R. Farrell (1990). A bird banding study in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales 1. Overview. Corella. 14:1-15.

Higgins, P.J., J.M. Peter & S.J. Cowling (2006). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. In: Part A. Boatbill to Larks. Volume 7. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Huggett, A.J. (2000). An experimental study of the impact of gaps and clusters silviculture on insectivorous birds in a continuous forest landscape. Ph.D. Thesis. University of New England, Armidale, NSW.

Lane, S.G. (1969). Tumbi Umbi banding summary. Australian Bird Bander. 7:27-32.

Lindsey, T.R. (1992). Encyclopedia of Australian Animals: Birds. Page(s) 313. Collins-Angus and Robertson Publishers Pty Ltd.

Loyn, R.H. (1985a). Bird populations in successional forests of Mountain Ash, Eucalyptus regnans, in central Victoria. Emu. 85:213-230.

Morony, J., W. Bock & J. Farrand (1975). Reference List of the Birds of the World. American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Morris, A.K., A.R. McGill & G. Holmes (1981). Handlist of Birds in New South Wales. Sydney: NSW Field Ornithologists Club.

Pratt, H.D., P.L. Bruner & D.G. Berrett (1987). A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Schodde, R. & I.J. Mason (1999). The Directory of Australian Birds: Passerines. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO.

Sharland, M.S.R. (1946). Rufous Fantail in Tasmania. Emu. 45:329.

Templeton, M.T. (1992). Birds of Nanango, South-East Queensland. Sunbird. 22:87-110.

White, C.M.N. & M.D. Bruce (1986). The birds of Wallacea. B.O.U. Check-list. 7.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Rhipidura rufifrons in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Sat, 20 Sep 2014 16:31:52 +1000.