Australasian wren

The Australasian wrens are a family, Maluridae, of small, insectivorous passerine birds endemic to Australia and New Guinea. While commonly known as wrens, they are unrelated to the true wrens of the Northern Hemisphere. The family comprises 29 species (including fifteen fairywrens, three emu-wrens, and eleven grasswrens) in six genera.

Australasian wren
Superb blue Wren1
Male superb fairywren
(Malurus cyaneus, Maluridae)
Malurus coronatus song
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Meliphagoidea
Family: Maluridae
Swainson, 1831
Genera

see text

Taxonomy and systematics

As with many other Australian creatures, and perhaps more than most, the species making up this family were comprehensively misunderstood by early researchers. They were variously classified as Old World flycatchers, Old World warblers, and Old World babblers. In the late 1960s morphological studies began to suggest that the Australo-Papuan fairywrens, the grasswrens, emu-wrens and two monotypic wren-like genera from New Guinea were related and, following Charles Sibley's pioneering work on egg-white proteins in the mid-1970s, Australian researchers adopted the family name Maluridae in 1975.[1]

With further morphological work and the great strides made in DNA analysis towards the end of the 20th century, their position became clear: the Maluridae are one of the many families to have emerged from the great corvid radiation in Australasia.[2] Their closest relatives are the honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), and the pardalotes (Pardalotidae).[3][4] Their obvious similarity to the wrens of Europe and America is not genetic, but simply the consequence of convergent evolution between more-or-less unrelated species that share the same ecological niche.

A 2011 analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found the broad-billed fairywren and Campbell's fairywren, both formerly lumped together in the genus Malurus, to lie in a clade with the two other monospecific New Guinea genera and as such, they were later re-classified as separate species within the genus Chenorhamphus.[5]

Currently, there are 6 genera recognized:[6]

Family Maluridae

Description

Malurids are small to medium birds, inhabiting a wide range of environments from rainforest to desert, although most species inhabit grassland or scrub. The grasswrens are well camouflaged with black and brown patterns, but other species often have brilliantly coloured plumage, especially in the males.[7]

They are insectivorous, typically foraging in underbrush. They build domed nests in areas of dense vegetation, and it is not unusual for the young to remain in the nest and assist in raising chicks from later clutches.[7]

Fairywrens are notable for several peculiar behavioral characteristics. They are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. Males of several species pluck petals of conspicuous colours and display them to females for reasons unknown.

The song of fairywrens is pleasant and complex, and at least two species (superb and splendid) possess, in addition to the alarm calls common to – and universally understood by – most small birds, another vocalization used when confronted by predators. This, termed "Type II Vocalization," is song-like and used when confronted by calling butcherbirds, and sometimes other predatory birds. Its purpose is, however, unknown; it does not seem to be a warning call.[8]

References

  1. ^ Schodde R (1975). "Interim List of Australian Songbirds". Melbourne: RAOU.
  2. ^ Jønsson, K. A.; Fabre, P. H.; Ricklefs, R. E.; Fjeldså, J (2011). "Major global radiation of corvoid birds originated in the proto-Papuan archipelago". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (6): 2328–2333. Bibcode:2011PNAS..108.2328J. doi:10.1073/pnas.1018956108. PMC 3038755. PMID 21262814.
  3. ^ Barker, FK; Barrowclough GF; Groth JG (2002). "A phylogenetic hypothesis for passerine birds: taxonomic and biogeographic implications of an analysis of nuclear DNA sequence data". Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 269 (1488): 295–308. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1883. PMC 1690884. PMID 11839199.
  4. ^ Barker, FK; Cibois A; Schikler P; Feinstein J; Cracraft J (2004). "Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation" (PDF). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 101 (30): 11040–11045. Bibcode:2004PNAS..10111040B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0401892101. PMC 503738. PMID 15263073. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2007-10-12.
  5. ^ Driskell, Amy C.; Norman, Janette A.; Pruett-Jones, Stephen; Mangall, Elizabeth; Sonsthagen, Sarah; Christidis, Les (2011). "A multigene phylogeny examining evolutionary and ecological relationships in the Australo-papuan wrens of the subfamily Malurinae (Aves)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 60 (3): 480–85. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.03.030. PMID 21466855.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Lyrebirds, scrubbirds, bowerbirds & Australasian wrens". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 8 November 2017.
  7. ^ a b Garnett, Stephen (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 196. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  8. ^ Greig, Emma I.; Pruett-Jones, Stephen (2009). "A predator-elicited song in the splendid fairy-wren: warning signal or intraspecific display?". Anim. Behav. 78: 45–52. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.02.030.

External links

Blue-breasted fairywren

The blue-breasted fairywren (Malurus pulcherrimus), or blue-breasted wren, is a species of passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is non-migratory and endemic to southern Western Australia and the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Exhibiting a high degree of sexual dimorphism, the male adopts a brilliantly coloured breeding plumage, with a bright blue crown, ear coverts and upper back, red shoulders, contrasting with a dark blue throat, grey-brown tail and wings and pale underparts. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles have predominantly grey-brown plumage. No separate subspecies are recognised.

Broad-billed fairywren

The broad-billed fairywren (Chenorhamphus grayi) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is found in northern and north-western New Guinea. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Campbell's fairywren

Campbell's fairywren (Chenorhamphus campbelli) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is found in New Guinea. It is found in south-central and south-eastern New Guinea in its natural habitat of subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Chenorhamphus

Chenorhamphus is a genus of birds in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae.

Emperor fairywren

The emperor fairywren (Malurus cyanocephalus) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae.

It is found in New Guinea in its natural habitat of subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

Emu-wren

The emu-wrens (Stipiturus) are a genus of passerine birds in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. They are found only in Australia, where they inhabit scrub, heathland and grassland. They are small birds, 12–19 cm long with the tail accounting for over half of their length. The tail has only six feathers which are loose and coarse in structure, rather like the feathers of the emu. Three species are recognised, of which the mallee emu-wren is endangered.

Grasswren

Grasswrens (Amytornis) are a genus of birds in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae.

Grey grasswren

The grey grasswren (Amytornis barbatus) is a passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is found on arid inland floodplains of Australia where it is endemic. The grey grasswren is a rarely seen elusive bird that was first sighted in 1921 but not taxonomically described until 1968. Its greyish coloration and very long tail distinguish it from all other grasswrens. While some recent research has been conducted, there still remain many gaps in the knowledge about the ecology of this cryptic bird.

Lovely fairywren

The lovely fairywren (Malurus amabilis), or lovely wren, is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is endemic to northeastern Australia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forest and subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest.

Mallee emu-wren

The mallee emu-wren (Stipiturus mallee) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia.

Its natural habitat is temperate grassland. It is threatened by habitat loss.

Malurus

Malurus is a genus of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae.

Orange-crowned fairywren

The orange-crowned fairywren (Clytomyias insignis) is a species of passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is monotypic within the genus Clytomyias.

It is found on New Guinea in its natural habitat of subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Red-backed fairywren

The red-backed fairywren (Malurus melanocephalus), or red-backed wren, is a species of passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia and can be found near rivers and coastal areas along the northern and eastern coastlines from the Kimberley in the northwest to the Hunter Region in New South Wales. The male adopts a striking breeding plumage, with a black head, upperparts and tail, and a brightly coloured red back and brown wings. The female has brownish upperparts and paler underparts. The male in eclipse plumage and the juvenile resemble the female. Some males remain in non-breeding plumage while breeding. Two subspecies are recognised; the nominate M. m. melanocephalus of eastern Australia has a longer tail and orange back, and the short-tailed M. m. cruentatus from northern Australia has a redder back.

The red-backed fairywren mainly eats insects, and supplements its diet with seed and small fruit. The preferred habitat is heathland and savannah, particularly where low shrubs and tall grasses provide cover. It can be nomadic in areas where there are frequent bushfires, although pairs or small groups of birds maintain and defend territories year-round in other parts of its range. Groups consist of a socially monogamous pair with one or more helper birds who assist in raising the young. These helpers are progeny that have attained sexual maturity yet remain with the family group for one or more years after fledging. The red-backed fairywren is sexually promiscuous, and each partner may mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. Older males in breeding plumage are more likely to engage in this behaviour than are those breeding in eclipse plumage. As part of a courtship display, the male wren plucks red petals from flowers and displays them to females.

Red-winged fairywren

The red-winged fairywren (Malurus elegans) is a species of passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is non-migratory and endemic to the southwestern corner of Western Australia. Exhibiting a high degree of sexual dimorphism, the male adopts a brilliantly coloured breeding plumage, with an iridescent silvery-blue crown, ear coverts and upper back, red shoulders, contrasting with a black throat, grey-brown tail and wings and pale underparts. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles have predominantly grey-brown plumage, though males may bear isolated blue and black feathers. No separate subspecies are recognised. Similar in appearance and closely related to the variegated fairywren and the blue-breasted fairywren, it is regarded as a separate species as no intermediate forms have been recorded where their ranges overlap. Though the red-winged fairywren is locally common, there is evidence of a decline in numbers.Bearing a narrow pointed bill adapted for probing and catching insects, the red-winged fairywren is primarily insectivorous; it forages and lives in the shelter of scrubby vegetation in temperate wetter forests dominated by karri trees, remaining close to cover to avoid predators. Like other fairywrens, it is a cooperative breeding species, with small groups of birds maintaining and defending small territories year-round. Groups consist of a socially monogamous pair with several helper birds who assist in raising the young. There is a higher proportion of female helpers recorded for this species than for other species of fairywren. A variety of vocalisations and visual displays have been recorded for communication and courtship in this species. Singing is used to advertise territory, and birds can distinguish other individuals by song alone. Male wrens pluck yellow petals and display them to females as part of a courtship display.

Rufous-crowned emu-wren

The rufous-crowned emu-wren (Stipiturus ruficeps) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia.

Southern emu-wren

The southern emu-wren (Stipiturus malachurus) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is endemic to Australia. Its natural habitats are temperate forests and Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation.

Splendid fairywren

The splendid fairywren (Malurus splendens) is a passerine bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It also known simply as the splendid wren or more colloquially in Western Australia as the blue wren. The splendid fairywren is found across much of the Australian continent from central-western New South Wales and southwestern Queensland over to coastal Western Australia. It inhabits predominantly arid and semi-arid regions. Exhibiting a high degree of sexual dimorphism, the male in breeding plumage is a small, long-tailed bird of predominantly bright blue and black colouration. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles are predominantly grey-brown in colour; this gave the early impression that males were polygamous as all dull-coloured birds were taken for females. It comprises several similar all-blue and black subspecies that were originally considered separate species.

Like other fairywrens, the splendid fairywren is notable for several peculiar behavioural characteristics; birds are socially monogamous and sexually promiscuous, meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such trysts. Male wrens pluck pink or purple petals and display them to females as part of a courtship display.The habitat of the splendid fairywren ranges from forest to dry scrub, generally with ample vegetation for shelter. Unlike the eastern superb fairywren, it has not adapted well to human occupation of the landscape and has disappeared from some urbanised areas. The splendid fairywren mainly eats insects and supplements its diet with seeds.

Wallace's fairywren

Wallace's fairywren (Sipodotus wallacii) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae. It is monotypic within the genus Sipodotus. It is found in New Guinea and the Aru Islands, where its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests.

White-shouldered fairywren

The white-shouldered fairywren (Malurus alboscapulatus) is a species of bird in the Australasian wren family, Maluridae.

It is found in New Guinea.

Extant Maluridae species
Subfamily Malurinae
Subfamily Amytornithinae

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