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Inspiring and Supporting Photographers of Australian Birds

Superb Fairy-wren

Superb Fairy-wren (Image ID 46291)
Photographed byMichael Hamel-Green on Wed 12th May, 2021 and uploaded on Mon 17th May, 2021 .
Resolution1800x1199
Viewed257
ID46291
CommentWhat makes Superb Fairy-wrens so superb? John Gould, as usual, puts it best: “As spring advances…the male undergoes a total transformation…indeed a more astonishing change can scarcely be imagined, its plain and unassuming garb being thrown off for a few months and another assumed, which for resplendent beauty is hardly surpassed by any of the feathered race…the little creature now displaying great vivacity, proudly showing off its gorgeous attire to the utmost advantage, and pouring out its animated song unceasingly” (Birds of Australia, v.3). Here is one such Superb male, discovered along the railway cutting at Royal Park, definitely showing off his gorgeous attire, although it is now quite late in the season, although apparently a few keep their striking garb all year. Most of the males, however, will revert to the less flamboyant brown plumage of females around this time of year, and are often mistaken for females, giving the impression that a single male might have a large “harem” of females around him. But it seems that domestic arrangements amongst the Fairy Wren clan are not quite so simple as they might appear, and certainly far from being patriarchal. New research by McQueen et.al. (2017) and cited in Gisela Kaplan’s wonderful book, Bird Bonds (pp141-2, 2019) has revealed that female Fairy Wrens apparently do not necessarily choose their male nesting companions to raise offspring from the most flamboyant of males but often opt for males early in the season that have not yet put on their breeding plumage. However, DNA analysis and careful observation has also revealed that the females engage in extramarital liaisons with male birds flaunting the most brilliant blue plumage. In Kaplan’s view, females are attracted to the bright blue for siring their offspring because such males are thought to be healthier; on the other hand, a partner for protecting their nests and hatchlings from predators needs to be less conspicuous than the flamboyant bright blue Don Juans of the clan. As Kaplan concludes, female Fairy Wrens want “a few of her clutch to be fathered by a high quality male but [also] to have a confident and capable male who is not necessarily fearful and not always in full colour [to] help provide the food”. Stunning plumage might be what makes a Blue Wren male superb. Wanting your cake it and having it too is what makes a Blue Wren female superb, and contributes to the whole health and resilience of the species.
EquipmentNikon Z7ii, Nikon 300mm PF f4, TC 1.4, focal length 420mm, ISO 1250, 1/3200th f5.6
LocationRoyal Park Wetlands, Parkville, Victoria
Keywordsmale, adult, breeding plumage/features
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