Known for its friendly ‘cheet cheet’ call and energetic flying antics, the aptly named fantail is one of the most common and widely distributed native birds on the New Zealand mainland. It is easily recognised by its long tail which opens to a fan. It has a small head and bill and has two colour forms, pied and melanistic or black. The pied birds are grey-brown with white and black bands.
The fantail is widespread throughout New Zealand and its offshore islands, including the Chatham Islands and Snares Islands. It is common in most regions of the country, except in the dry, open country of inland Marlborough and Central Otago, where frosts and snow falls are too harsh for it. It also breeds widely in Australia and some Pacific Islands.
The fantail is one of the few native bird species in New Zealand that has been able to adapt to an environment greatly altered by humans. Originally a bird of open native forests and scrub, it is now also found in exotic plantation forests, in orchards and in gardens. At times, fantails may appear far from any large stands of shrubs or trees, and it has an altitudinal range that extends from sea level to the snow line.