The Splendid Fairywren



The keeping of softbills in aviculture, in particular fairywrens, is becoming more popular as people realize that they are not a bird species reserved only for the most experienced aviculturists to house and breed. More importantly, it is a realization that the keeping of softbills is the simple application of different management techniques, feeding requirements, and level of commitment from that of the more "traditional" bird species such as parrots and doves.

Many of us at one time or another have probably seen a species of fairywren in. the wild darting about whilst twittering loudly. As aviculturists many of us have probably thought to ourselves how stunning these birds would look in the backyard aviary. One species that could be considered as a candidate for such an undertaking is the Splendid Fairywren which is a fascinating and stunning bird in a well planted aviary.

Other Common Names

Black-backed Fairywren, Turquoise Fairywren, Australian Banded Wren, Banded Blue Wren, Banded Fairywren, Mormon Wren, White's Blue Wren.


The word "wren" comes from the European species of bird with the same name, whereas in Australia it has been used to describe a number of small active bird species that dart around on the ground and in thick


foliage and scrub layers. The fairywrens belong to the Family Malundae which is classified to form part of the largest, and arguably the most successful, group of birds collectively known as passerines (commonly called perching birds or songbirds). The name "songbird" is given to passerines because they have a syrinx (similar to the larynx in humans). This is believed to have provided passerines with an


evolutionary advantage because the energy used to produce complex vocalizations to partition, hold, and defend living space, is less than the energy used in physical exertion to perform confrontational behaviors (which run the risk of injury) employed by other groups of birds. The Maluridae is made up of five genera. Two of these are endemic to New Guinea (Sipodotus and Clytomyias),


two are endemic to Australia (being Arnytornis - grasswrens, and Stipiturus - emu-wrens), and one is shared hy Australia and New Guinea (Malurus - Fairywrens).

The Splendid Fairywren Malurus splendens was described in 1830 and belongs to a group commonly called "bi-colored wrens." The term "bi-colored" refers to the change in plumage colour by mature males. During the breeding season males attain a "nuptial" plumage which is brightly colored, and in the non-breeding season molt to a dull "eclipse" plumage. The male is brightly colored throughout the breeding season so he can display to a prospective mate and to assert himself as the dominant male to the rest of the social group.

The forming of social groups/family parties with siblings is a common behavioral characteristic of the fairywrens. It is also interesting to note that the erect tails typically seen in Fairywrens is thought to play a part in maintaining stability within the social group by acting as a signalling device. Often the dominant animals will have slightly longer tail feathers. With the loss of this display/signalling system (made up by the combination of plumage colour and erect tail) during the molt, it is not uncommon for all members of a social group to molt simultaneously. After the breeding season is over the males molt into a dull brown plumage (similar to female), with the tail and wings being washed with blue.

The male can be distinguished by having a black bill and dusky grey coloration around the eye. This dull plumage allows him to retire safely back to a normal mode of existence where he is able to camouflage himself with his surroundings. It has been known for elderly males to molt directly into a new nuptial plumage, bypassing the eclipse plumage phase altogether. Females remain unchanged in plumage throughout the year and are generally brown with (unlike the female Fairywren Malurus cyaneus), a slight blue wash through their tail and wing feathers. Females have a russet brown coloration around the eye and have a light brown bill. Juvenile males and females are difficult to sex and

adopt the plumage coloration of the adult female but lack blue in the tail.




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From Australian Aviculture,June 1998 revised and edited form AFA Watchbird ~