Common Name: Purple-crowned Fairy-wren
Scientific Name: Malurus coronatus
Size: 5 ½ inches (14 cm)
Habitat: Australia; Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are divided into two races: - an eastern race (M. c. macgillivaryi) that occurs in the sub-coastal region from the Roper River in the Northern Territory to the Flinders River in Queensland; and - a western race (M. c. coronatus) that occurs throughout the Kimberley region of Western Autralia and the Northern Territory. The two races of Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens never mix and more than 400 km separates them geographically.
Status: Least Concern to Vulnerable Global population: 6,700-19,000 mature individuals. Purple-crowned Fairy-wren populations have declined dramatically since they were first discovered 130 years ago and their battle for survival just keeps getting harder.. Livestock eat and trample the species habitat, seeking access to water. Fires are increasing in frequency since the advent of pastoralism, and have been detrimental in some places. These processes expose soil, leading to erosion and, ultimately, denudation and weed invasion of river banks which are then abandoned by the species. This has been ameliorated along some parts of the Victoria River where several large pastoral stations have excluded stock from riparian areas.
Optus is joining forces with Australian Wildlife Conservancy to help protect the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary for future generations of Australians. To find out more about this major on-ground program, please see Protecting the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, WA, Austrailia..
Diet: Insects (including beetles, ants, bugs, wasps, grasshoppers, moths and flies), their larvae, and spiders, which they find in the natural compost that accumulates in the leaf-axils of Pandanus after flooding. They mostly forage for their food on the shaded ground beneath clumps of Pandanus. Individuals forage separately, hopping rapidly over the ground. They always maintain contact with group members by means of ‘chet’ calls. The next most used foraging site is amongst the leaves of the Pandanus itself, over and through which the birds progress remarkably quickly, using their large feet to grasp the blades of the leaves.
Breeding: The plumage is brown overall, the wings more greyish brown. The bill and feet are dark pink to black. The male in breeding plumage has a purple crown bordered by a black nape and face. On the top of the head is a black rectangular patch. It also has a cream-buff belly and blue tail tipped with white. In eclipse plumage the crown is grey and head mottled black and grey. The female differs in having a blue-tinged grey crown, chestnut ear-coverts, and greenish blue tail. Immature birds have a brown crown, although male birds start to show black feathers on the face by 6 to 9 months.
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens usually occur in family groups of 5 to 6 birds, comprising a socially monogamous breeding pair and their progeny from previous years. All birds help at the nest to raise the young of the dominant pair – a mating system known as cooperative breeding. Young Fairy-wrens and especially males tend to remain with their parents and help to raise their siblings after reaching maturity. Some helpers may assist their parents for up to four years or more before departing their natal territory and forming a breeding pair. Breeding activity takes place through the year but may not occur at all during very dry years. Only female Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens build the nest and incubate the clutch of 2 – 3 eggs. The male will keep her company and may even feed her while she builds. The nest itself is dome shaped, averaging about 40cm high, and is built close to the ground in thickets of pandanus, river grass or canegrass. Nests are made from rootlets, grass stems, leaves and bark. The nestlings remain in the nest for 10 days. They are barely able to fly when they first leave the nest so they remain in dense cover for about a week.
Cool Facts: Fairy-wrens use song to communicate in many different ways, from romancing their mates to warning other family members of dangers like an approaching predator. Male and female fairy-wrens even sing co-ordinated duets to ward off itinerant fairy-wrens from their territory.
The surgeon J. R. Elsey was the first to collect the species, on A. C. Gregory's northern Australian expedition in 1855 and 1856. Two specimens were collected at Victoria River and a third at Robinson River, but they were not examined for over 100 years. It was first described by the ornithologist John Gould in 1858. Its species name is derived from the Latin cǒrōna "crown". The nominate subspecies is found in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia, while the subspecies macgillivrayi, named by Gregory Mathews in 1913, is from the lands bordering the Gulf of Carpentaria. The two subspecies are separated by around 200 km of land inhospitable to them, and have been so for around 10,000 years. Its distinctive plumage led Mathews to place it in a separate genus Rosina. However, genetic evidence shows it is most closely related to the Superb and Splendid Fairywren within the genus Malurus.