Fairy Wren by Jean Gundry
Fairy Wren by Jean Gundry

Fairy-wrens: Not as innocent as they look

AUSTRALIA'S fairy-wrens prove that you just can't judge a book by its cover.

As breeding season kicks off for cute backyard buddies, so begins their long list of illicit affairs.

There are nine species of fairy-wrens found across Australia that are currently partnering up for the breeding season, and NSW is home to five of those. 

The most common wrens to look out for are the Superb Fairy-wren, the Variegated Fairy-wren and the Splendid Fairy-wren, CEO of the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife, Susanna Bradshaw said.

"Fairy-wrens are super cute with beautiful feathers and have delightful personalities, so it's no wonder that the Superb Fairy-wren was voted Australia's favourite bird," Ms Bradshaw said.

"But behind their fluffy appearance, there lies a tangled web of torrid affairs and deceit.

"From the outside these birds look like they have the picture-perfect family unit.

"Mum and dad appear busy rearing their young each year, with some of their offspring even sticking around to help out with feeding the next brood of chicks."

"Dad will go to great lengths to protect the family territory from other males, while also sharing child-rearing duties.

"However just before dawn, the illusion of family duty and marital fidelity is shattered.

"Both mum and dad will often disappear to neighbouring territories, before the sun rises, for romantic forays with other fairy-wrens.

"Mum may seek out a suitor who recently gave her a pretty flower as a gift, while dad fairy-wren may disappear to court other females.

"This unashamed infidelity isn't just a one-off, it is so common that up to three quarters of all the fairy-wren broods can be sired by other males.

"It's not surprising that they have the title of being the most unfaithful birds in the animal kingdom!"

"You hear a lot about birds mating for life, but being unfaithful in the bird world is a lot more common than many people realise. It also has its benefits.

"Laying lots of eggs fertilised by different males can increase the genetic health of the fairy-wren population."

"If you want to see more of these cuties in your own garden and watch their Kardashian-style lives play out in front of you, there are some simple things you can do."

Tips for encouraging fairy-wrens into your garden:

  • The very best thing you can do to make your garden friendlier to fairy-wrens and other small birds is to keep pet cats inside or install an outdoor cat run. Cats sadly kill and eat many Australian fairy-wrens, even if they're well fed and not hungry.
  • Plant dense bushes in a corner of your garden to offer fairy-wrens protection from predators and a safe place to nest. Some of their favourite protective plants include Lemon Bottlebrush, Lemon-scented Darwinia and Hakeas.
  • Small, insect-attracting flowers are great for the male fairy-wrens who like to offer pretty petals to females they are trying to woo. These plants also attract insects for them to eat. Croweas, tea trees and dwarf flowering gums are some great insect-attracting plants for fairy-wrens.
  • A birdbath placed near dense bushes will also entice these pretty birds into the garden. They like the bath to be close to bushes so they have somewhere safe to quickly fly to if they see a predator.
  • Avoid planting lots of tall trees, surrounded by open spaces as this favours predatory and aggressive birds such as butcherbirds and noisy miners. These birds will chase fairy-wrens away.

More information at www.backyardbuddies.net.au.

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