Other names: Blue Wren, Jenny Wren (female).
Size: Tiny, with long thin tail.
Range and lifestyle: Resident throughout south-eastern Australia.
Food: Small insects.
Breeding: Mostly in September and October. Nest is oval-shaped with a roof and side entrance, made of grass stems and rootlets and lined on the inside with feathers. The clutch is 3-4 eggs that are whitish, with brown dots all over.
Recently voted one of the most popular birds in Australia, the tiny Superb Fairy-wren is found only in the southeast of the continent, but as far north as Rockhampton, Queensland. Known simply as the “Blue Wren” 30 years ago, it is one of three species of fairy-wrens that occur around Brisbane, all characterised by their long upright tails.
Only males attain the attractive sky-blue feathers that make this species so popular with human observers. The brown-coloured females were often called “Jenny Wrens” in the past, but we now know that not all brown birds are females. All young birds are brown like their mothers, and it takes at least five years for the males to keep their resplendent blue costume. For the first few years of their lives the boys slip back into a brown plumage after the breeding season, so that they resemble their mothers and sisters.
Fairy-wrens live in family groups, and it’s quite normal for babies in the nest to be fed by one or two older brothers, as well as by mum and dad.
The Superb Fairy-wren has adapted to parks, gardens and rural areas with large open spaces, where they hop about in the grass foraging for tiny insects. Such a small bird might be expected to live for only a few years, but banding studies – in which a band or ring is applied to birds’ legs so that they can be recognised – have shown that they can live to over 10 years of age!
Text © Richard Noske 2019 CC BY-NC-SA
While male Superb Fairy-wrens are in their colourful breeding plumage, they are easier for predators to spot. To keep themselves safe they spend more time watching for danger and hiding, and less time looking for food.
McQueen A, Naimo AC, Teunissen N, Magrath RD, Delhey K, Peters A. 2017 Bright birds are cautious: Seasonally conspicuous plumage prompts risk avoidance by male superb fairy-wrens. Proc. R. Soc. B 284: 20170446. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.0446