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16

Purple-backed Fairy-wren

(Malurus assimilis)
Alternate name(s): "Purple-backed Wren"
Aboriginal name(s): "miril-yiril-yiri"
Collectively, the three species White-winged Fairy-wren, Splendid Fairy-wren and Purple-backed Fairy-wren, are called "miril-yiril-yiri" along the northern edge of the Nullarbor

Size: 13-14 cm
Weight: 6-11 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 Purple-backed Fairy-wren at Wikipedia .

Click here for classification information

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range

Sightings

Click here for sighting information

Photos

Race "assimilis"

ADULT

MALE

BREEDING

Full-frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Two male Purple-backed Fairy-wrens conveniently aligned such that one is seen from the front, the other sideways
[Mt. Kaputar NP, NSW, September 2008]

Near-frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, November 2017]

Near-frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of A. Campbell)
[Mount McEuen, QLD, September 2017]

Near-frontal/ventral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of V. Collins)
[Narrabri, NSW, October 2020]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[Burren Junction Bore Bath, NSW, December 2020]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[Burren Junction Bore Bath, NSW, December 2020]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage together with two females
[Narrabri, NSW, November 2010]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage, different posture (photo courtesy of A. Campbell)
[Mount McEuen, QLD, August 2017]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage; note the purplish blue colour of its crown, which identifies the bird as a specimen of race "assimilis"
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, November 2017]

Near-dorsal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage (photo courtesy of V. Collins)
[Narrabri, NSW, September 2020]

Dorsal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, October 2013]

Lateral view of a moulting male Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, August 2017]

This male Purple-backed Fairy-wren, which was observed by us hunting for insects in dense scrub, is moulting out of its breeding plumage
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, April 2011]

NON-BREEDING

Frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren starting to moult into breeding plumage (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren starting to moult into breeding plumage (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage
[The Drip Gorge, Goulburn NP, NSW, April 2016]

Frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage
[The Drip Gorge, Goulburn NP, NSW, April 2016]

Lateral view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage, with just a few dark feathers remaining on the head (photo courtesy of V. Collins)
[Narrabri, NSW, October 2020]

Near-dorsal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage
[The Drip Gorge, Goulburn NP, NSW, April 2016]

Dorsal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage
[The Drip Gorge, Goulburn NP, NSW, April 2016]

FEMALE

Frontal view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren, race "assimilis"
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, April 2011]

Near-frontal view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Near-frontal view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Parachilna Gorge, SA, November 2018]

Near-frontal view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

Near-frontal view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren, different posture
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

Near-lateral view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, April 2011]

Lateral view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren in breeding plumage
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, November 2017]

Lateral view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, April 2011]

Lateral view of a female Purple-backed Fairy-wren looking for prey in an eucalypt tree
[Pilliga, NSW, December 2013]

The same female Purple-backed Fairy-wren as above, now seen more from behind; note the brown tint at the base of the wings
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, April 2011]

Female Purple-backed Fairy-wren taking a bath
[Deriah Aboriginal Area, NSW, February 2009]

Two views of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren in non-breeding plumage, with the white lining of its tail feathers prominently visible
[Pilliga scrub, NSW, July 2011]

IMMATURE/JUVENILE

Lateral view of a fledgling Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, November 2017]

Dorsal view of a fledgling Purple-backed Fairy-wren
[Yarrie Lake, near Wee Waa, NSW, November 2017]

Three fledgling Purple-backed Fairy-wren chicks hiding low in a Wilga tree
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Jul - Jan Eggs: 3 - 4 Incubation period: 14 - 16 days Fledging age: 10 - 12 days

Purple-backed Fairy-wrens have a particularly short fledging period for their chicks, compared to the incubation period. This leads to the effect shown below.

Frontal view of a Purple-backed Fairy-wren fledgling - it and its siblings could hardly fly; from the front "the job looks almost complete"
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

Dorsal view of a Purple-backed Fairy-wren fledgling; from behind the story is quite different - in 10-12 days there is just not enough time to grow long tail feathers...
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

Nest building: ? Incubation: Female Dependent care: Family clan

Nest

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

Type: Dome Material: Bark fibres, grass stems, webs Height above ground: 0.1 - 0.4 m

Eggs

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

Size: 17 x 13 mm Colour: Creamy, with light-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval

Behaviour

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

Although territorial, we have seen Purple-backed Fairy-wrens share their territories with Superb Fairy-wrens, even during the breeding season.

Like other Fairy-wrens, male Purple-backed Fairy-wrens have distinctly different breeding and eclipse plumages.

The plumage of this male Purple-backed Fairy-wren shows clear signs of wear late in spring, e.g. on the cap, where the blue sheen has been lost (photo courtesy of A. Campbell)
[Mount McEuen, QLD, November 2016]

Near-frontal view of a male Purple-backed Fairy-wren just out of the bathtub (photo courtesy of A. Campbell)
[Mount McEuen, QLD, November 2016]

Apart from undergrowth in woodland, Purple-backed Fairy-wrens can often be found in dense vegetation along rivers and lakes
[Burren Junction Bore Bath, NSW, May 2020]

Food, Diet

Fairy-wrens feed on small animals, such as insects.

Dad Purple-backed Fairy-wren bringing food for his chicks
[Gundabooka NP, NSW, September 2012]

The plumage Male Purple-backed Fairy-wren going for a drink or a bath (photo courtesy of A. Campbell)
[Mount McEuen, QLD, November 2016]

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.

pubwren_20141023.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Contact calls(?) © MD
pubwren_20140212.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Territorial call(?) © MD
pubwren_20140127.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Warning call (female) © MD
pubwren_20151010.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Alarm calls (clan; near nest?) © MD
pubwren_20151010_2.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Alarm calls (clan; near nest?) © MD
pubwren_20200114_2.m4a assimilis
(NW NSW)
Various (clan) © MD
pubwren_20200114.m4a assimilis
(NW NSW)
Curious/investigating © MD
pubwren_20200114_3.m4a assimilis
(NW NSW)
Curious/investigating © MD
pubwren_20140218.mp3 assimilis
(NW NSW)
Curious/investigating © MD

More Purple-backed Fairy-wren sound recordings are available at xeno-canto.org .

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.