The prettiest Variegated Fairywren (Malurus lamberti)
Habitats: Among the fairywrens, the variegated fairywren is the most widespread. This species also occurs in a variety of habitats, making it one of the most variable. It is most commonly found in shrubby forests and heaths on the central east coast. Variegated Fairywren females are mouse-brown and chestnut-lored, but males are grey-legged with light blue crowns and royal blue backs.
Races: There is another race of almost violet-crowned and backed miles west of the Great Dividing Range across southern mallee and scrublands to the west coast. In the Gulf of Carpentaria and southern Kimberleys, the males have lighter blue crowns and ear covers, while the females have paler, grayer brown crowns and ear covers. Both of these races live on scrubby escarpments in Arnhem Land and the Kimberleys. Males are pure white-bellied with just a smattering of lavender at the sides of their breasts, while females have steely grey-blue backs. Unlike Arnhem Land females, Kimberley females have broad white-tipped tails and chestnut lore.
All of these races undergo molts that result in dull, female-like plumage when they are no longer breeding. At every point where they meet, they intergrade, the eastern with the inland through central eastern Queensland, and the inland with the northern through the southern Kimberley’s into Arnhem Land. Forests, heaths, woodlands, open plains, and pockets of open land all require a moderately dense shrub layer. It is common for birds to inhabit bushes along ephemeral streams in more arid regions. These birds live in small groups of three to seven birds in the same territory or area throughout the year, similar to otherfairy wrens.
Before dawn, the group sings before moving out to forage. Tails cocked erect, they communicate with high-pitched tseees and harsh churrs. Foraging is primarily done by gleaning within bushes, flying close to the ground, and dashing from shrub to shrub. During the flight, the tail dangles slightly and the bird flutters slightly.
Diet: They also hunt insects on the ground, running between grasses and into low trees’ foliage, always under cover or close to it. Their bill is broader than the bills of other fairy wrens, allowing them to catch larger prey. Compared to the Superb and White-winged Fairy-wrens, they are more generalist feeders, eating bugs, beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, flies, and termites, and occasionally fruitless. As the temperatures rise, feeding is interrupted by rests, sunbathing, huddling, and mutual preening on sheltered branches, as well as following the leader when he chases them.
Identification: A male’s crown and mantle range from violet-blue to mid-blue; long pointed ear coverts are distinctly lighter in color. The lores, nape collar, and lower back are black; the scapular patches are mid-chestnut; the wings are deep grey-brown; and the tail is dull blue. The throat and breast are black, with or without a violet wash on the sides; the belly is white, and the flanks are white to tawny grey. Their eyes are brown, along with the black bill. It has flesh-gray to dusky feet. In contrast to females, males have a grayer head, whiter breasts, black lords, and a black bill in non-breeding plumage.
Female: grey-brown or grey-blue body color; lores chestnut encircling eye or white in Arnhem Land; tail grey-blue with narrow white tip; underparts white or cream-white, grading regionally to russet-grey on flanks; red-brown bill.
Immature: The upper parts and tail of the male are duller until the first molt.
Sounds: Its call is characterized by long, high whistles or tseees when in contact and repeated chirps with varying levels of harshness when in alarm.
Song: In Aboriginal alliteration, the Variegated Fairywren song is a soft, dry, mechanical-sounding rattling warble on almost the same pitch.
Nesting and Breeding: Spring is the most common time for nesting and breeding in all regions. The nest is constructed from grasses and spiders’ egg sacs, lined with feathers and plant down, and has a side entrance. Nests are generally built within 1 meter of the ground in grass tussocks or small shrubs. The feathers of the back and sides of basking birds are flared as they stretch almost prostrate, belly down, over the perch. Other fairy wrens bask in this way. Breeding groups begin nesting with a core pair and often several additional members, primarily males but occasionally females, after the young of the year are shed. The female constructs the nests without assistance, constructing a very rough structure four to six days prior to laying an egg.
The birds run around and over shrubbery when faced with threats to the nest, heads lowered, feathers flaring, and tails dragging behind. Fairy wrens grow rapidly, often faster than other fairy-wren species. However, when they fledge, they can fly only weakly and spend up to a week hiding in shrubs, camouflaging themselves. After four or five weeks, they are strong enough to follow adults and forage independently. While parental females may return to the nest multiple times, males may not.
Eggs: The female begins incubating the eggs on consecutive mornings until the clutch is complete; she then broods the nestlings for several days in decreasing periods. All members of the group feed growing nestlings throughout the day, coming and going from all parts of the territory with food. Three or four eggs are laid by the little bird, and they are white with red-brown speckles at the larger end. The eggs measure about 17 x 13 mm and are oblong and oval in shape. During incubation, the female is responsible for managing the process. Ten to twelve days after hatching, the young fledge.
Distribution: Throughout the mainland, Australian shrubberies can be found, including on the Kimberleys, Arnhem Land, and the Gulf of Carpentaria; east to the Great Dividing Range, traversing it to the east and southeast coasts; south to the Murray Mallee, South Australian gulfs, and Western Australian wheatbelt; and west to the coast north of Perth and offshore islands.
Threats: Among the major nest predators are Australian magpies, butcherbirds, laughing kookaburras, currawongs, crows and ravens, and shrike-thrushes, along with red foxes, feral cats, and black rats.
Alternative Names: Among its other names are Purple-backed Wren, Lavenderflanked Wren, Bernier Island Blue Wren, Lambert’s Superb Warbler, Lambert Wren, and Dulcet Fairy Wren.
Size: Approximately 110–145 mm is the length of the variegated fairywren.