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Superb Blue Wren (Malurus cyaneua)Printable Version


An unknown bird
This past weekend saw me walking across the popular Como Bridge which spans the Georges River between Oatley and Como. Being opportunistic I kept an eye out for birdlife and was greeted by something I did not recognise. Not having anything with which to record it, I made a mental note of those features which stood out to me: it was slightly larger than a wren, dark with black legs and had distinctive white bands - one each above and below the eye.


White faced heron (Ardea novaehollandiae) - click to enlarge


Following this, and testing out my new binoculars, I found a white faced heron browsing the mudflats at low tide, similar to the one presented here which visited my back yard some months ago. During my recent wildlife rescue course I learned that this is a high risk bird when taken into care - its main occupation is spearing fish with incredible speed and accuracy; an intimidated bird being handled by people is liable to use its beak in defence - and to strike straight at the person's eyes.

On returning home I browsed through my "Field Guide to the Birds of Australia" by Graham Pizzey to find the nearest match for the smaller bird would be a white browed robin (Poecilodryas superciliosa) but a quick check of the map showed it to be a northern Australian species. I suppose it may possibly have been the white browed scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) as the distribution matches perfectly.

At any rate, I was determined to go back and look again, this time with camera at the ready. As fate would have it, I didn't find that species again.


Superb Blue Wren (Malurus cyaneua) - click to enlarge


However, the first bird I came across was this magnificent male superb blue wren (or blue fairy wren). He hopped straight out of the undergrowth, sat atop a bush and sang for us. Even though I managed to shoot several photos, in all of them he was partially obscured by twigs or other foliage. Nonetheless, this photo shows his identifying characteristics well: the brilliant blue cap and cheek, dark blue tail, white underparts and brown wing. In this photo his eye colour appears almost jet black although my field guide shows a lighter colouration.

As it turns out, one of the key species being researched by the Birds in Backyards survey (conducted by the Australian Museum - see the WLMD External Links page for more information) is the superb blue wren. Naturally, my sighting of this specimen - and the handful of others which I could never capture on camera - has now been forwarded to the Museum.


Superb Blue Wren (Malurus cyaneua) - click to enlarge


Interestingly, in preparing this article it became apparent from the photos that this bird has a band on its left leg at the ankle - seen above and again in this photo. Now... to get back in touch with the Museum to let them know...

According to one newsletter from the National Parks Association (reference not to hand), smaller native birds such as the superb blue wren are being driven out of urban areas by a combination of factors. Essentially the noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala) - another Australian native, and not to be confused with the Indian mynah (Acridotheres tristis) - is driving other birds out of urban habitats. However, the magazine discusses research which shows that thick undergrowth with tree canopy cover (such as with gum trees) provides ideal habitat for these smaller birds.

This particular superb fairy wren and the rest of its group were found in a thicket of spiny plant material (forgive my ignorance in botany) which was perhaps 10 meters long by 4 meters wide. That is not a large amount of habitat, which has two implications - we can provide very little and still help a lot, but ideally we should provide even more for small patches like this would be very prone to intrusion by other predators such as foxes, cats and currawongs.

The Birds in Backyards site has information on how to make your yard small-bird friendly. Noisy miners don't bother competing where there are thick understories, and simply move out.

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