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Superb fairywren

Superb fairywren

What are superb fairywrens?

Superb fairywrens are a tiny little bird that you will often see in or near very thick plant undergrowth where they shelter from bigger birds. They will come out onto grass to feed on insects and seeds then retreat into bushes for safety. 

These birds are found across most of south-eastern Australia, in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

The scientific name for the superb fairywren is Malurus cyaneus. They are one of 11 different species of fairywrens but are actually not a wren at all. They are more closely related to honeyeaters and pardolotes. Other spellings for fairywrens include 'fairy wrens' or 'fairy-wrens'.

The male superb fairywren has bright blue colouring on his head and tail only during the breeding season. He then loses his blue feathers in autumn and winter. Females, juveniles and males who are not breeding are a plain mid-brown colour. All fairywrens hold their tail up most of the time.

What do superb fairywrens sound like?

Superb fairywrens make a number of different calls but the most recognisable is a beautiful high-pitched tinkling sound.

What do superb fairywrens eat? 

Superb fairywrens are mostly insectivorous. This means they eat mostly insects but they also eat small amounts of seeds or fruits.

The birds usually feed by hopping around on grassy areas. They never stray far from thick bushes and undergrowth so they can quickly return to shelter when threatened.

How are superb fairywrens adapted to their environment?

Superb fairywrens have short sharp beaks, ideal for picking up and crushing insects.

The males only grow their bright blue feathers during the breeding season. The rest of the year all fairywrens are a mid-brown colour so they camouflage or hide in their environment.

Super fairywrens share parenting tasks with other adults as well as the parents looking after the young. 

What is the life cycle of superb fairywrens?

Superb fairywrens lay two to four eggs in a small dome-shaped nest made out of grass and spiderwebs. The chicks take about 14 days to hatch. They leave the nest in about 40 days. Unlike most birds the young superb fairywrens stay with their family for a year or two helping to raise other babies.

What threats are there to superb fairywrens?

The predators of superb fairywrens include bigger carnivorous birds such as kookaburras, butcher birds, currawongs and ravens. Introduced species such as cats, foxes and rats are also a threat to eggs in the nest, baby birds and adults while they are feeding.

You can help protect fairywrens in your garden by planting thick shrubs for them to hide in.

How are superb fairywrens important to Aboriginal Peoples?

There are many references to superb fairywrens in Aboriginal cultures around Australia. 

The D’harawal people, whose traditional country is around Wollongong in NSW, have a dreaming story where the superb fairywren gets his blue colours from the berries of the Dianella plant. They call this bird murrudoo’win. The Eora and Durug peoples of the Sydney area also call the superb fairywren muruduwin.

Hot off the press!

On October 8th, 2021, the superb fairywren was voted 'bird of the year' in a competition run by the Guardian newspaper and Birdlife Australia. 40,000 Australians voted for their favourite bird. The Tawny Frogmouth came a close second.

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