The moment a kookaburra is bombarded by two willie wagtails is a comical show of character.
Landing on the branch of a eucalyptus tree in Sydney, Australia, the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae) was not a welcome visitor. He may have just been going about his business looking for a tasty lizard or snake, but for the territorial willie wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys), it was better safe than sorry.
Swooping in on the kookaburra, one either side, the far-smaller birds squawked at maximum volume in an attempt to harass the intruder out of their area. But the kookaburra—which is many times larger—is a patient fellow.
Australian nature photographer Martin Anderson, 45, who came upon the scene, describes what happened next: “To escalate things, the wagtails started swooping in at speed, taking turns flying in faster and closer each time.”
The kookaburra’s only reaction was to blink. “Becoming frustrated, the wagtails decided to get physical,” said Martin. “One flew in behind the kookaburra kicking it with both feet right in the middle of its back.”
Again, in a true display of resilience, the kookaburra remained unfazed by all the attention.
The little drama unfolded right in the middle of the Sydney suburb of Winston Hills, within a nature reserve in Martin’s neighborhood. Captioning the photos as “He chose the wrong tree to land in,” Martin shared his shots of the day on the Australian Native Birds’ social media page where they amassed over a thousand likes.
“Although it’s a sprawling metropolis,” he said, “nature clings to natural resources that remain within the confines of the city. Creeks, gullies, and parklands support a surprising amount of wildlife, and we’re very lucky in Australia to have such a variety of species right on our doorstep.
“I love to show details that the human eye can’t see. Behavioral and action shots, though much harder to execute are an important aspect of my photography, as I am driven by spreading awareness of the incredible wildlife we have at our doorstep in the best way possible.”
Admired for their gutsy spirit, the pair of willie wagtails kept up their ambush.
“For every bit the kookaburra is resilient, the wagtail is equally persistent,” Martin said. “The kicks and swoops continued to intensify as the kookaburra’s patience began to waver. Sensing his discomfort, the wagtails went to the next level, flying in and grabbing onto the kookaburra’s tail feathers and hanging upside down from them.
“By this stage, the kookaburra had enough and started striking out at the wagtails, who were way too fast to be bothered by the retaliation.”
After 10 intense minutes, the kookaburra flew out of the area with a wagtail escort.
Only found in Australia, the laughing kookaburra is the country’s most iconic bird. As opportunists that have been known to take away fledglings from nests, they arouse the intensely territorial nature of the wagtail.
Martin, who shares his nature photography work on Instagram, says he seeks to spread awareness about local wildlife and regularly patrols city nature reserves looking for images to share with community groups.
He says kookaburras being robust medium-sized birds with long beaks don’t care if they enter other birds’ territories, as they are not a bird “to pick a fight with.” The willie wagtail, meanwhile, is a tiny bird weighing in at less than one ounce. In spite of its size, the wagtail will defend its territory from any threat, including dogs, cats, and other birds; even eagles.
“The wagtail is a very popular bird amongst the Australian people,” said Martin, “mainly due to its tenacity and lack of fear. The Mark Twain quote ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog’ has a strong resonance in Australia, and the willie wagtail epitomizes this.”
Martin, whose specialty is showcasing the beauty of birds and spiders, advises others to take a look around at what wildlife is close to where one lives, and be surprised at the diversity and beauty one will find.
“Our world is a very special place filled with many incredible species, including us humans. We all need to look after our own little patch,” he said.