Superb Fairywren

Malarus cyaneus

Male Superb Fairy-wrens are brilliantly coloured, and one of our favourite birds. Photo: Jeff Groves

The Superb Fairywren is one our most familiar and loved birds, ubiquitous on calendars, diaries and tea towels. They prefer habitats consisting of clear open areas where they can feed, interspersed with dense low vegetation where they can hide if danger threatens. They can be found in parks and gardens with thick shrubs or undergrowth, but such areas are becoming less common and smaller and sadly, Superb Fairy-wrens are no longer as common in our gardens as they used to be.


Female Superb Fairy-wren. Photo: John Spiers

Superb Fairywrens are generally found in small parties consisting of a male, a female, several ‘helpers’ of either sex (usually belonging to a previous brood), and one or more juveniles of the current brood.

The complex social and sexual lives of fairywrens have resulted in them becoming probably the most scientifically studied species in Australia. The socially monogamous pairs are maintained year-round, but the couple commonly engage in multiple extra-pair copulations. Females solicit copulation from adjacent males particularly early in the morning

Superb Fairy-wrens will use parks and gardens as long as there is some thick shrubs to seek shelter in. This bird is a male in eclipse plumage. Photo: Jeff Groves

when the male is singing his territorial song. Males also solicit copulation from females in adjacent groups – an activity that has been called “furgling”.

Displays associated with furgling are: the Blue-and-Black Display, where the brown plumage is hidden and Petal carrying (usually yellow petals). Social pairs are usually maintained until the death of one of the birds. ‘Divorce’ is uncommon.


Superb Fairywrens are mainly eat small insects but they will occasionally eat seeds, flowers and fruit.


Breeding males are easy to identify with their vivid blue and black head and upperparts and contrasting off-white underparts, as they sing from conspicuous perches. The bill is black. The upperparts of females are dark grey-brown, while the chin, throat and lower parts are off-white except for the tail which is blue-grey. The loral stripe and oval eye-ring are orange-red with the bill being orange-red. Females have a single post-breeding moult each year while males moult twice a year. The non-breeding plumage is similar to that of the females but they can be told apart by the black bill of the male.

Where to find it

Look for Superb Fairy-wrens in forests, woodlands and large parks and gardens in the wetter (southern) parts of the state.

There are two subspecies in South Australia , M.c. leggei in mainland South Australia, M.c.ashbyi on Kangaroo Island.