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Red-backed Fairy-wren, Malurus melanocephalus

The Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus) is a passerine bird in the Maluridae family. It is found only in Australia along the coasts of rivers. These rivers are the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and the Kimberley which is the northern portion of Western Australia.

This species is similar to other fairy-wrens which show apparent sexual dimorphism. During its breeding time, the feathers turn a vibrant red on the back to contrast with its brown wings, and black tail, underside and head. The female is much different with a paler brownish underside. The males have darker feathers and the young appear more like the females. Unlike other fairy-wrens’, a few males keep the non-breeding feathers when breeding. The two subspecies are the cruentatus and the melanocephalus. The cruentatus is short-tailed with a deeper red back from northern Australia, while the melanocephalus has an orange back with a longer tail and is found in eastern Australia.

The unique bird feeds predominantly on insects, and the remainder of its diet is small fruits and seeds. It survives in shrubland habitats and savannahs where low vegetation shields it from prey. Mates or small flocks care for and protect territories throughout the year, but may move around due to periodic bushfires. Flocks are made up of a socially monogamous couple accompanied by one or more helper birds that help raise the young. The helpers have sexually matured, but choose to stay with the family flock for a few more years after learning to fly. Like other fairy-wrens’, the male Red-backed Fairy-wren has sexual relationships with a number of partners and even helps raise the babies from such couplings. The younger males are not as likely to act in this manner as the older males with breeding feathers. As part of the dating ritual, the male wren picks red flower petals and gives them to the females as a gift.

Image Credit: Nevil Lazarus/Wikipedia (CC Attribution 3.0)

Red-backed Fairy-wren Malurus melanocephalus


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