Malurus coronatus (Purple-crowned Fairy-wren) is a bird endemic to Northern and Western Australia. Two subspecies are recognized, Malurus coronatus coronatus and Malurus coronatus macgillivrayi. This species can be found near water and thick vegetation such as Pandanus, Chionachne cyathopoda, or other canegrass. This bird is 14 cm in length and has a blue tail that sticks vertically in the air. During breeding season, males develop a purple crown with a black spot in the center on the top of their head. Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens breed in monogamous pairs and male offspring are known to stay with the breeding pair for up to four years to care for other young. This species is an insectivore and may eat leaf matter found in canegrass. Banding records indicate that individuals live for nine years or more.
The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is endemic to Australia and according to Skroblin and Legge (2010) it “occurs across northern Australia, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Victoria River region in the Northern Territory, and the southwestern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria of the Northern Territory and Queensland.” The eastern subspecies (M. c. macgillivrai) occurs along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria of the Northern Territory and Queensland. The western species (M. c. coronatus) occurs in the Kimberley region and along the Victoria River region. Within this range the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is found only near rivers with dense vegetation.
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are around 14 cm in length. All birds, regardless of sex or age, have a warm-brown color on top and a white color on the underside. These birds have a blue tail that sticks vertically in the air and a dark bill. Females have a dark gray head with a red-brown “mask” near the eyes. Males tend to be very similar to females during non-breeding season except males have a black, brown, or dark gray “mask” around the eyes. During breeding season males develop a purple coloring on the top of the head with a black spot in the center. The black mask extends further, from the bill to the back of the neck. Juvenile birds are very similar to adult females except for a duller coloration and longer tail.
Average length: 14 cm
Mass: 9-13g, average: 11g
Average wingspan: 16 cm
Sexual dimorphism: males develop a purple coloring on head
The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is a small bird with brown feathers on the upper half of the body and white feathers covering the lower half of the body. The eyes and beaks are black. The legs and feet are brown. Female Malurus coronatus have a brown spot on their cheeks. The male has a black and grey head with a grey crown. During the breeding season, the crown turns purple with black feathers surrounding the crown, and their tail is blue. The birds can grow up to 14cm long and have a wing span of 16cm. They can weigh between 9g to 13g (Australian Wildlife Conservancy 2012).
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens (Malurus coronatus) are very unique birds and few species look similar, especially during breeding season. The Superb Fairy- wren (Malurus cyaneus) female, however, is similar in appearance to the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren female. Both species have a brown color on top of the body with a white color underneath. The Superb Fairy-wren also has a red-brown patch around the eyes and has a tail that points vertically in the air. These species are also the same size at 14 cm and have roughly the same mass between 10 and 11 g. Female birds may look similar but when a closer look is taken there are distinctive features that each species has. The Superb Fairy-wren’s vertical tail is brown, unlike the Purple- crowned Fairy-wren which has a blue tail. Female Purple-crowned Fairy-wren’s also have a dark bill, whereas Superb Fairy-wren’s have an red-brown colored bill. The red-brown patch around the eyes is also slightly different. Purple-crowned Fairy-wren have a “mask” that is slightly behind the eye and the Superb Fairy-wren have a red-brown patch that encircles the eye.
Habitat and Ecology
The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is found near water and thick vegetation in Northern and Western Australia. It usually resides in canegrass, Pandanus (with high stem density), Chionachne cyathopoda or tall river grass that are very dense. One subspecies (Malurus coronatus coronatus) may also reside in Xanthium strumarium. This species does not usually travel more than 10 m away from this type of habitat and does not occur in areas where river grass is not present. When this area floods, Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens use taller trees such as Eucalyptus to keep them safe from the water (Rowley, 1993).
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are mostly sedentary. They set up territories in the same place and can remain in the same territory year after year. The progeny will disperse in 1 to 3 years or stay with their parents for 4 years or more. The female progeny typically leave sooner and disperse farther away than the male siblings. The male progeny are more likely to stay with their parents and help care for their siblings. Individuals move away or find shelter in canopies of riverside eucalypts and paperbarks when their territory is flooded (Rowley 1988: 5). Local dispersal occurs when a breeding pair leaves their territory because of separation or death of one or both birds (Australian Government 2012). They would disperse one or two kilometers away. When a female bird loses her mate due to death, she will travel away from her territory to find a new mate. When a male bird loses his mate due to death, he will find a new mate in his territory. Helpers can move away to a group with breeding vacancies (Rowley 1988: 6).
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are heterotrophs and consumers in their local food webs. They are also insectivores and eat beetles, ants, bugs, wasps, grasshoppers, moths, larvae, and spiders (Boekel 1979; Hall 1902; Mathews 1918; Rowley & Russell 1993; van Doorn 2006). The species can also feed on leaf material (Hall 1902) and some seeds (Schodde 1982). Individuals look for insects in Pandanus, canegrass, herbs, shrubs, trees, and grasslands. They can capture insects while flying in the air, hopping on the ground, and moving through vegetation quickly. They often hop quickly on the ground looking for food around leaf litter, roots, and boles of Pandanus. They move quickly in vegetation or Pandanus leaves that may have accumulated as debris during floods (Boekel 1979; Rowley & Russell 1993).
Life History and Behavior
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are territorial and will defend their territory (Rowley 1988: 5). This species is also sedentary and will stay in a region for many years. Male offspring tend to stay close to the monogamous breeding pair and help raise young for up to 4 years. Individuals in this species keep contact with other individuals when foraging by using a “chet” call. Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are insectivores but can also feed on leaf matter that can get trapped on Pandanus or other canegrass (Rowley & Russel 1993).
Range of time to hatching: 14 days
Average fledgling age: 10 days
Time to maturity: one year for both sexes
Maximum longevity: 9 years or longer
Purple-crowned Fairy wrens are able to breed throughout the year but breeding is more common following wet seasons with good rainfall. These birds breed in monogamous pairs and can have a family group of 5-6 individuals that includes offspring from past reproductive events (http://www.australianwildlife.org/Wildlife-and-Ecosystems/Wildlife-Profiles/Birds/Purple-crowned-Fairy-wren.aspx). More males than females tend to stay and help raise new young. They also may stay for up to four years to help the breeding pair raise young (Rowley & Russel 1993).
A clutch containing 2 -3 eggs laid over successive days, is incubated by only females for 14 days. Females are also the only contributors to nest construction. Nests are dome-shaped and are “built close to the ground in thickets of Pandanus, river grass, or canegrass … [and] made from rootlets, grass stems, leaves and bar” (http://www.australianwildlife.org/Wildlife-and-Ecosystems/Wildlife-Profiles/Birds/Purple-crowned-Fairy-wren.aspx, Rowley 1988). Nests are often near openings “(e.g. drainage areas, roads, and tracks), perhaps to provide a better escape route for females from predators” (Van Doorn 2007). Nestlings remain in the nests for up to 10 days. Fledglings remain in dense cover for a week after leaving the nest because they cannot fly well (Rowley & Russel 1993). These young birds are still fed by members of the family group for at least 3 weeks (http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=64442).
Breeding season: Throughout year and very common after wet seasons with a good rainfall
Breeding interval: Pairs may produce up to 3 broods per year
Range of eggs per season: 2-3
Evolution and Systematics
The closest relatives of the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren are the Superb Fairywren (Malurus cyaneus) and Splendid Fairywren (Malurus splendens). There are 13 species in the Malurus family and the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren is the largest in the genus (Rowley and Russell 1997).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Malurus coronatus
There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen. Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Malurus coronatus
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
The enemies of these birds are Brown Goshawks (Acipiter fasciatus) and Collared Sparrowhawks (A. cirrocephalus). Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are protected by Pandanus and canegrass, but are in danger of aerial predators when they fly across water. Ground predators include Olive Pythons (Liasis olivaceus), goannas or feral cats, and Brush Cuckoos (Cuculus variolosus) who will lay their eggs in the nest of Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens (Rowley 1988: 6).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens are not captured to be eaten, to use their plumes, nor for pets. (Rowley 1988: 12). A benefit of Purple-crowned Fairy-Wrens is birdwatching. Birdwatchers can take tours to see different species of Australian birds, which includes looking for the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren in northwestern Australia. Birdwatchers can observe and take photos of the birds as they hike in conditions that are mostly hot, dry, and sunny.
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 which was 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, and the subspecies macgillivrayi. named by Gregory Mathews in 1913, from the lands bordering the Gulf of Carpentaria. The two subspecies are separated by around 200 km of land inhospitable to them, and has been 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.
The plumage is brown overall, the wings more greyish brown. The bill and feet are 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.
Three calls have been recorded: a loud reel cheepa-cheepa-cheepa, a quieter chet – a contact call between birds in a group when foraging, and an alarm call – a harsh zit.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Malurus coronatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Rowley and Russell, p. 155.
- Simpson, D.P. (1979). Cassell's Latin Dictionary (5 ed.). London: Cassell Ltd. p. 153. ISBN 0-304-52257-0.
- Christidis L, Schodde R (1997). (abstract) "Relationships within the Australo-Papuan Fairy-wrens (Aves: Malurinae): an evaluation of the utility of allozyme data". Australian Journal of Zoology 45 (2): 113–129. doi:10.1071/ZO96068. Retrieved 2007-09-20.
- Rowley and Russell, p. 156.
- Rowley, Ian; Russell, Eleanor (1997). Bird Families of the World:Fairy-wrens and Grasswrens. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854690-4.