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Maluridae - Australasian Wrens

Fairy-wren
Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti ©Ian Montgomery Website

The Maluridae are a family of small, insectivorous passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea. Commonly known as wrens, they are unrelated to the true wrens of the Northern Hemisphere. The family includes 15 species of fairywren, 3 emu-wrens, and 11 grass wrens.

They are small birds, inhabiting a wide range of environments, from rainforest to desert, although most species inhabit grassland or scrub. The grasswrens are well camouflaged with black and brown patterns, but other species often have brilliantly coloured plumage, especially in the males.

They are insectivorous, typically foraging in underbrush. They build domed nests in areas of dense vegetation, and it is not unusual for the young to remain in the nest and assist in raising chicks from later clutches.

Fairywrens are notable for several peculiar behavioural characteristics. They are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. Males of several species pluck petals of conspicuous colours and display them to females, a behaviour yet to be explained.

The songs of fairywrens is pleasant and complex, and at least two species (superb and splendid), in addition to the alarm calls common to most small birds, have another vocalisation used when confronted by predators. This 'Type II Vocalisation', is song-like and used when confronted by calling butcherbirds, and sometimes other predatory birds. Its purpose is not yet understood; it is certainly not a warning call.

According to the IOC, there are just 29 species in this family; they are:

Wallace's Fairywren Sipodotus wallacii

Broad-billed Fairywren Malurus grayi
Campbell's Fairywren Malurus campbelli
Emperor Fairywren Malurus cyanocephalus
Lovely Fairywren Malurus amabilis
Variegated Fairywren Malurus lamberti
Blue-breasted Fairywren Malurus pulcherrimus
Red-winged Fairywren Malurus elegans
Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus
Splendid Fairywren Malurus splendens
Purple-crowned Fairywren Malurus coronatus
White-shouldered Fairywren Malurus alboscapulatus
Red-backed Fairywren Malurus melanocephalus
White-winged Fairywren Malurus leucopterus

Orange-crowned Fairywren Clytomyias insignis

Southern Emu-wren Stipiturus malachurus
Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee
Rufous-crowned Emu-wren Stipiturus ruficeps

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus
Black Grasswren Amytornis housei
White-throated Grasswren Amytornis woodwardi
Carpentarian Grasswren Amytornis dorotheae
Short-tailed Grasswren Amytornis merrotsyi
Striated Grasswren Amytornis striatus
Eyrean Grasswren Amytornis goyderi
Western Grasswren Amytornis textilis
Thick-billed Grasswren Amytornis textilis
Dusky Grasswren Amytornis purnelli
Kalkadoon Grasswren Amytornis ballarae

Family Links

Fairywrens & Allies Maluridae

Family Account

The Fairywrens & Grasswrens are an Australasian family comprised of 14 fairywrens (three genera but 12 are in Malurus); three emu-wrens (Stipiturus); and 8 grasswrens (Amytornis). Each of of them is an absolutely great little bird. Most are active, cock-tailed, territorial, non-migratory foliage-gleaning wrens; many have brilliant plumage patterns (they are not closely related to Holarctic wrens at all). Five species are malurids are found only in New Guinea and adjacent islands, but twenty are restricted to Australia…

Fairywrens & Allies Maluridae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Fairywrens & Allies Maluridae

Species Account

In early classifications, many Australian taxa were placed close to groups of Eurasian or African taxa having similar, convergent morphology or ecological roles, and they were labelled as “ flycatchers”, “thrushes” or “warblers”. The fairy-wrens and their allies were given the name of “ warblers” or “wren-warblers”. From the time when they were first described, their affinities remained uncertain for some 200 years until 1985...

Fairywrens & Allies Maluridae

Species Account

Commonly known as wrens, they are unrelated to the true wrens of the Northern Hemisphere.

Species Links

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis

Species Account

Image + Lovely Fairy-wrens are co-operative breeders. Genetic studies of superb and splendid fairy-wrens have revealed the shocking fact that a high proportion of the young are not dad`s. It appears that, from time to time, mum entertains the neighbouring males, mating with up to six different ones in addition to her regular partner…

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

Image

Image + Brief Account…

Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee

Species Account

The Mallee Emu-wren (Stipiturus mallee) is a bird species in the family Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia. Its natural habitat is temperate grassland. It is threatened by habitat loss.

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis

Species Account

The lovely fairywren (Malurus amabilis) is a species of bird in the Maluridae family. It is endemic to northeastern Australia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis

HBW Species Account

Malurus amabilis Gould, 1852, Cape York, northern Queensland, Australia. Part of the “chestnut-shouldered group”, which includes also M. lamberti, M. pulcherrimus and M. elegans. Forms a superspecies with M. lamberti; sometimes considered conspecific, mainly on account of blue female plumage of present species and of races dulcis and rogersi of latter, but protein data support treatment as separate species. Birds from SE of range described as race barroni, but considered inseparable from populations elsewhere. Monotypic.

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis

BirdLife Species Account

Lovely Fairy-wren Malurus amabilis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti

Species Account

The variegated fairywren (Malurus lamberti) is a fairywren that lives in diverse habitats across most of Australia. Four subspecies are recognised.

Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti

Species Account

The breeding male Variegated Fairy-wren is brightly coloured. The crown and sides of the head are blue, and the shoulder patch is a rich chestnut. The depth and variety of colours in the male varies among the four subspecies, distributed across the Australian mainland. Non-breeding males, females and young birds are brownish grey. Females

Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Malurus lamberti Vigors and Horsfield, 1827, no locality = Sydney area, New South Wales, Australia. Part of the “chestnut-shouldered group”, which includes also M. amabilis, M. pulcherrimus and M. elegans. Forms a superspecies with M. amabilis; sometimes considered conspecific, mainly on account of blue female plumage of latter species and of races dulcis and rogersi, but protein data support treatment as separate species. Geographical variation in colours of male and female plumage considerable, and races were at one time regarded as representing four separate species, with many additional races described. Race assimilis intergrades with both dulcis and rogersi, and also, in E, with coastal nominate race. Five subspecies currently recognized.

Variegated Fairy-wren Malurus lamberti

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee

BirdLife Species Account

Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Stipiturus mallee A. J. Campbell, 1908, Mallee district = Hopetoun district, west Victoria, Australia. Forms a superspecies with S. malachurus and S. ruficeps; has been treated as conspecific with former. Often considered conspecific with S. ruficeps, but mitochondrial DNA evidence supports maintenance of the two as distinct species. Monotypic.

Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee

IUCN Species Status

13-14.5 cm. Tiny-bodied, streaked wren with brown, filamentous tail of 8-9.5 cm. Grey-brown upperparts, coarsely streaked darker. Rufous cap. Orange-buff below in both sexes. Male has sky-blue face and bib.

Mallee Emu-wren Stipiturus mallee

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

Species Account

The red-backed fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus) is a species of passerine bird in the family Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia and can be found near rivers and coastal areas along the northern and eastern coastlines from the Kimberley in the northwest to the Hunter Region in New South Wales.

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

BirdLife Species Account

While many of Australia’s fairy-wrens feature various shades of blue in their plumage, the Red-backed Fairy-wren is equally as striking, but with an eye-catching patch of red feathers on its back and rump, contrasting with the rest of the plumage, which is glossy black. They are commonly seen in grassy areas of northern and eastern Australia.

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

Species Account

This is the smallest of the fairy-wrens, with the male in breeding plumage inmistakable; glossy black with a scarlet saddle, black bill and shortish tail with a squared tip. Adult non-breeding males and immature birds are very similar to the females which are plain warm-brown with a pinkish-brown bill, though males have a black bill. The tail of the females is longer and more pointed. These wrens have no blue in their plumage at all. They are usually in small family groups with mainly brownish birds.

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

IUCN Species Status

This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion.

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

HBW Species Account

Maps, photos etc

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus

Species Account

The grey grasswren (Amytornis barbatus) is a passerine bird of the family Maluridae native to inland Australia. It is a rarely seen elusive bird that was first sighted in 1921, but not taxonomically described until 1968.

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus

BirdLife Species Account

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Amytornis barbatus Favaloro and McEvey, 1968, Teurika, Bulloo River, north-west New South Wales, Australia. Protein evidence indicates that this species stands apart genetically from other grasswrens; interpreted as being an older form. Two subspecies recognized.

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus

IUCN Species Status

The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is reported to be rare in Queensland and South Australia and vulnerable in New South Wales (Higgins et al. 2001). The nominate barbatus may number c.15,000 individuals.

Grey Grasswren Amytornis barbatus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 29

Useful Reading

Fairy-Wrens and Grasswrens

by Ian Rowley & Eleanor Russell [Illustrated by Peter Marsack] OUP 1997

ISBN: 0198546904

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Other Links

Red-backed Fairy-wren Research in Australia

Website

Over a century ago, Charles Darwin provided a robust explanation for behavioral and morphological differences between the sexes, the theory of sexual selection…