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Inspiring and Supporting Photographers of Australian Birds

Superb Fairy-wren

Superb Fairy-wren (Image ID 46292)
Photographed byMichael Hamel-Green on Wed 12th May, 2021 and uploaded on Mon 17th May, 2021 .
Resolution1800x1060
Viewed109
ID46292
CommentWhen I encountered this Superb Fairy Wren amongst a group foraging in leaf litter next to a footpath at Royal Park Wetlands, I thought I was photographing a female. No striking bright blue cap and saddle, just the kinds of browns you would expect in a female Fairy Wren. Closer consultation of the CSIRO Australian Bird Guide “bible” of bird identification indicated that this is actually an adult male who has changed out of his handsome masculine summer outfit of bright blue cap, blue bandana, and dark blue-black tuxedo, and clothed himself in the more subtle browns and whites of female Fairy-wren attire. And it would seem that most male Superb Fairy-wrens, except for a few stubborn hold-outs, change their outfits every winter, and then change back again in Spring as the breeding system commences. The unabashed cross-dressers of the bird king-and-queendoms. But, if they are dressed in female garb, how do you know this one is a male? Fortunately, the “bible” has identified two male give-aways: a black beak compared to a female’s more orange coloured beak and lores, and a navy blue tail compared to a female’s more dull blue tail. If you are unaware of these minor differences, as indeed I was, it would be easy to make the mistake of thinking a whole group of brown-browed and brown-backed Fairy-wrens are mainly female. This apparently was the reason for misconceptions to arise about Fairy-wren males having a whole “harem” of females tagging along after them. Still, one question remains, why do the males go to such lengths to cross-dress so dramatically over winter, especially with all the ribbing that might be expected from their more masculinist fellow males? The answer may lie in their inclination to forage in leaf litter in the open at ground level, and thereby better camouflage themselves from hawkeyed predators cruising overhead. But then, when Spring and breeding season is in the air once again, a Fairy-wren Romeo’s problem is the very opposite: how to stand out from the crowd and attract your Juliet’s attention with all your brilliant hues and seductive trills.
EquipmentNikon Z7ii, Nikon 300mm PF f4, TC 1.4, focal length 420mm, ISO 1250, 1/100th f5.6
LocationRoyal Park Wetlands, Parkville, Victoria
Keywordsmale, adult, non-breeding plumage/features
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