I’ve always had a soft spot for wrens, perhaps because my wife is called Jenny. I even did a post about an English wren here. But the Jenny-wrens are British birds, and our Sydney equivalents are the fairy-wrens. Most Sydneysiders have seen the little brown females skittering through the undergrowth in local bush reserves, often accompanied by a male in his black and electric blue breeding dress. Usually, these are Superb Fairy-wrens.
The Variegated Fairy-wrens (Malurus lamberti) are shyer and less common than their Superb cousins, so I was pleased to be able to photograph this Variegated male in his breeding plumage earlier this week.
A big part of the pleasure was getting a clear photo: these little birds usually stay well embedded in shrubbery. Furthermore they are very active, continually flitting from branch to branch as they look for insects.
The next few pictures illustrate their quicksilver nature, as my camera was set to take ten frames per second. The photo above was frame 1. Frame 2 was identical. In frame 3 below the wren’s hopping about on his perch to face the other way (his feet are a blur).
In frame 4 he’s focused on something a little to my left:
And frame 5 (i.e. 0.4 of a second after I first pressed the shutter) shows him as a blur, well and truly launched towards his next perch:
There is a frame 6 but it only shows the tips of his tail feathers disappearing in the top left hand corner.
The other pleasing thing about these images was that the bird was almost unobscured. I usually see these fairy-wrens in a tangle of bush, so that photo opportunities mostly look like this:
I’ve encountered Variegated Fairy-wrens in quite a few places. The next photo was taken at Noosa, and illustrates another problem one can encounter with birds in thickets – that of dappled sunlight. This could have been a good photo if the rear half of his body hadn’t been in bright sunlight, giving misleading and washed-out colours.
Getting a decent picture of a male requires concentration such that I have to overlook the less colourful females. I only have one rather poor photo :
The female is mostly plain brown, like the female Superb Fairy-wren, but here a branch obscures the lore (the area between the beak and eye). The lore of a female Variegated Fairy-wren is darker than that of a female Superb Fairy-wren. To illustrate this, I went back yesterday in an attempt to get a better photo, but the wrens stayed obscured and well away from me. However one distant female briefly popped her head just far enough above an intervening rock to show her darker lore:
The little group may have been keeping their distance because this male was giving ‘tzit’ calls which I interpreted as warnings.
Although the male didn’t come any closer, he did hop into the sunlight long enough to give me this (heavily cropped) view before I went home:
Australian fairy-wrens aren’t closely related to Northern hemisphere wrens. (Early settlers tended to name local birds and animals for their superficial resemblance to European ones. Hence the platypus was known as a duck-mole for while!) Australia has nine species of fairy-wren, but only the Superb Fairy-wren and Variegated Fairy-wren are found in the Sydney area. At up to 15 gm, the Superb is larger than the Variegated (up to 11 gm), with the 10 gm Eurasian Wren being the smallest. However, the Variegated has the longest tail. You can see from the photos that it’s longer than its body (beak tip to base of tail.)
Variegated Fairy-wrens have the widest distribution of the fairy-wrens, with the several subspecies spread over most of the continent. They feed on insects and other small invertebrates, foraging in the lower levels of shrubs and thickets. They live in pairs or in small groups. In the group I saw last week, there were at least five or six birds, including two breeding males and one non-breeding male. Both males and females care for their young, as do the non-breeding “helper” birds of the group.