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16

Superb Fairy-wren

(Malurus cyaneus)
Alternate name(s): "Superb Blue Wren", "Blue Wren", "Jenny Wren", "Superb Warbler", "Blue Cap", "Blue Tit", "Mormon Wren", "Cocktail"; misnomer: "Blue Bonnet*"
Size: 13-14 cm
Weight: 8-13 g

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Superb Fairywren at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Not the photos you want? Or are you after even better quality? Have a look here .

Race "cyaneus"

ADULT

MALE

NON-BREEDING

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in near-eclipse plumage, with only a few blue feathers left (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Bruny Island, TAS, March 2016]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in near-eclipse plumage, with only a few blue feathers left (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Bruny Island, TAS, March 2016]

FEMALE

Lateral view of a female Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Bruny Island, TAS, March 2016]

Race "cyanochlamys"

ADULT

MALE

BREEDING

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, February 2006]

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage displaying its crest
[Near Coonabarabran, NSW, December 2013]

Male Superb Fairy-wren, different posture
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2011]

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage in reeds by a freshwater lake
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage issuing his call
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, March 2012]

Male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage seen preening
[Near Coonabarabran, NSW, December 2013]

Close-up lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2011]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of M. Windeyer)
[Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW, February 2012]

Dorsal view of the same male Superb Fairy-wren as above
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2011]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren on the ground
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2010]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage, with its tail cocked as typical of Fairy-wrens
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2010]

NON-BREEDING

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in eclipse
[Old Quipolly Dam, near Quirindi, NSW, July 2016]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren at the end of the breeding season, while moulting into its winter plumage
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren at the start of the breeding season, while moulting into its breeding plumage; note how the feathers around the eyes turn blue first; the bird is also growing new tail feathers
[Near Wee Waa, September 2012]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren at the end of the breeding season, while moulting into its non-breeding plumage (photo courtesy of I. Duncan)
[Glen Iris wetlands, Melbourne, VIC, March 2013]

A bit of preening also strengthens the family bonds...
[Urunga Heads, NSW, January 2011]

FEMALE

(Near-)frontal view of a pair of Superb Fairy-wrens; female on the left, male on the right (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, June 2013]

Pair of Superb Fairy-wrens hiding in a bottlebrush tree
[Near Coonabarabran, NSW, December 2013]

Close-up frontal view of a female Superb Fairy-wren
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

Frontal view of a female Superb Fairy-wren, which are much more inconspicuous than the males
[Goran Lake, NSW, April 2011]

Lateral view of a female Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Gold Coast, QLD, July 2016]

Lateral view of a female Superb Fairy-wren
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2010]

The same female Superb Fairy-wren as shown above, now with its tail high up
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2010]

Lateral view of a female Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Gold Coast, QLD, July 2016]

Dorsal view of a female Superb Fairy-wren
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, 2006]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

This male Superb Fairy-wren is moulting into its first adult plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, November 2013]

Frontal view of a very young Superb Fairy-wren chick, probably a fledgling (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Doctors Flat Road, Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, December 2014]

Fledgling Superb Fairy-wren begging for food (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Doctors Flat Road, Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, December 2014]

Lateral view of a juvenile Superb Fairy-wren - note the yellow gape and the not yet fully developed tail (photo courtesy of J. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, August 2014]

Lateral view of a juvenile Superb Fairy-wren begging for food
[Eulah Creek, NSW, October 2015]

Race "ashbyi"

ADULT

MALE

BREEDING

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Near-dorsal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in breeding plumage foraging on the ground (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

NON-BREEDING

Frontal view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in eclipse plumage (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in eclipse plumage (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

FEMALE

Near-frontal view of a female Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Near-frontal view of a female Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Penneshaw, Kangaroo Island, SA, March 2016]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Aug - Jan Eggs: 3 - 4 Incubation period: 13 - 15 days Fledging age: ca. 12 days

Nest building: Dominant female Incubation: Female Dependent care: Family clan

Nest

"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Dome Material: Rootlets, grass stems; feather lining Height above ground: 0.2 - 1.2 m

View straight into a Superb Fairy-wren nest with the female inside (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay North, East Gippsland, VIC, January 2017]

Superb Fairy-wren nest hidden in a low, dense shrub, about 30 cm above ground; this photo was obtained in a rural garden where there are no cats

Close-up view into a Superb Fairy-wren nest, with two of three chicks visible (photo courtesy of R. Druce)

This Superb Fairy-wren nest was found at a height of about 1.2 m in a dense, prickly grevillea shrub
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2011]

Two of three chicks are visible in this photo; the noise of their begging must have been heard by cats - yet they all survived
[Eulah Creek, NSW, December 2011]

Another example of a Superb Fairy-wren nest in a rural garden without cats - here the male is seen feeding the offspring (photo courtesy of J. Butler)
[Warwick, QLD, January 2015]

Female Superb Fairy-wren at its nest (photo courtesy of J. Butler)
[Warwick, QLD, January 2015]

Eggs

"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 17 x 12 mm Colour: Light cream, mid- to dark-brown specks at thick end Shape: Tapered oval

Behaviour

Social behaviour: Territorial Mobility: Sedentary Elementary unit: Family clan

Superb Fairy-wrens are amongst the tamest Australian birds. When fed, they can come and sit on people's bodies without fear.

At the end of the breeding season the α-male Superb Fairy-wrens possibly retain their black and blue colours, while other males either don't have the adult plumage yet or loose it through the winter. The photos below show how, in the process of moulting, the blue/black feathers are replaced by more greyish ones. In 2007 the breeding season started in July, at which point the males could be seen in their full splendor. In early July 2011 the first male was seen starting to mould into breeding plumage.

Lateral view of a male Superb Fairy-wren in full breeding plumage; this shot was taken in the middle of winter, when most likely only the α-male of the clan had its breeding plumage (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, June 2013]

Near-frontal view of a moulting male Superb Fairy-wren
[Eulah Creek, NSW, March 2011]

The same moulting male Superb Fairy-wren as above, now seen sideways, with its head turned
[Eulah Creek, NSW, March 2011]

Near-lateral view of a moulting male Superb Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of R. Druce)

Dorsal view of a moulting male Superb Fairy-wren
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, January 2006]

Lateral view of a young male Superb Fairy-wren in the last stage of moulting into eclipse plumage
[Near Narrabri, NSW, March 2009]

In the end the males have an eclipse plumage, as shown below.

Male Superb Fairy-wren in autumn, outside the breeding season
[20 km South of Narrabri, NSW, April 2006]

The 2013/2014 breeding season, which started with an exceptionally dry spring in the north-west of NSW, was particularly bad for many bird species. During the summer of 2014 we noticed that there were some Superb Fairy-wren family clans without an α-male in breeding plumage (see photo below).

To the best of our knowledge, this male Superb Fairy-wren is the α-male of its clan - note how in the middle of summer it has lost most of its breeding colours; one other male in the same clan looked similar at the time
[Eulah Creek, NSW, January 2014]

Although territorial, we have seen Superb Fairy-wrens share their territories with both Variegated Fairy-wrens and White-winged Fairy-wrens.

Food, Diet

It is normally difficult to see what exactly Superb Fairy-wrens feed on. Probably their mainstay are small insects. Below a photo showing a young male bird that has caught some kind of insect, making it clear that these birds are carnivorous.

Male Superb Fairy-wren whacking a big meal into submission (photo courtesy of A. Ross-Taylor)
[Highland Park, Gold Coast, QLD, September 2012]

Female Superb Fairy-wren with its catch
[Eulah Creek, NSW, April 2011]

Superb Fairy-wren hunting around a rockpool
[Mt. Kaputar NP, NSW, April 2013]

This female Superb Fairy-wren is collecting food for its chicks (photo courtesy of J. Butler)
[Warwick, QLD, January 2015]

Call(s)/Song

For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

frywren_20140306_2.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Territorial call (male) © MD
frywren_20140919.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Territorial call Q&A © MD
frywren_20151016.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Territorial call Q&A © MD
frywren_20140313_2.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Territorial call (abbreviated) © MD
frywren_20140115.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Warning calls © MD
frywren_20140519.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Alarm calls (Aust. Raven) © MD
frywren_20141119.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Alarm calls (human) © MD
frywren_20140723_3.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Various © MD
Click here for more recordings

We have also recorded the wing beat of a Superb Fairy-wren.

frywren_20140723_2.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Departure © MD
frywren_20140520.mp3 cyanochlamys
(NW NSW)
Hawking for insects © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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If interested, please CLICK HERE. Credits to contributors are given HERE.