White-winged Fairy-wren

Did you know?

The White-winged Fairy-wren was first named, 'Merion leucoptere' for the Dirk Hartog Island subspecies, by French naturalists, Quoy and Gaimard, in their publication of 1824.


Barrow Island (Malurus leucopterus edouardi) and Dirk Hartog Island (Malurus leucopterus leucopterus) subspecies are listed as vulnerable at the federal level, and rare in Western Australia.

The song consists of a few short introductory notes followed by prolonged reel of up to 4 seconds' duration with regular rise and fall in pitch. The contact call is a "tsit" or a brief soft reel. The alarm call is an abrupt "tsit"
Facts and Figures
Research Species: 
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Breeding season: 
year round, except June
Clutch Size: 
14 days
Nestling Period: 
28 days
Conservation Status
Associated Plants
Plants associated with this species
Basic Information
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What does it look like?

The adult male in its striking, breeding plumage is either dark blue or glossy black  with white shoulder patches, and it has a mid to dark blue tail. The glossy black plumage is found on the subspecies edouardi, found only on Dirk Hartog and Barrow Islands off Western Australia, while the dark blue is found on the mainland subspecies, leuconotus. The adult female has a drab grey-brown crown, back and wings, grey tail faintly washed blue. She is whitish below and her flanks and lower underparts are washed dull buff.  Immature birds are like the female. The male does not obtain full plumage until its fourth year. This species is also called the Black-and-White, Blue-and-White or White-backed Fairy-wren; or the Pied, White-backed or White-winged Wren.

Similar species: 

The male of the similar Splendid Fairy-wren,Malurus splendens,   has rich violet blue on its crown, back, shoulders, throat and most of its under surface, but its ear tufts are sky blue.

The male of the Red-backed Fairy-wren, Malurus malanocephalus,  is glossy black, but with fiery orange shoulders, back and rump.

The male White- shouldered Fairy-wren, Malurus alboscapulatus,   is entirely glossy black, except for white shoulders.

Where does it live?

The White-winged Fairy-wren is found from Dirk Hartog Island and coast of Western Australia east across mainland  (not north) to central and southern Queensland, central New South Wales and NW Victoria. It is replaced by the Red-backed Fairy-wren north of 20 degrees South.


The White-winged Fairy-wren is found in low shrubland throughout arid and semi-arid areas, especially in samphire on saltpans and chenopod (for example saltbush) shrublands.  It is replaced by the Splendid Fairy-wren where vegetation is taller.

Seasonal movements: 

The White-winged Fairy-wren stays in the one area, but may be locally nomadic outside the breeding season.

What does it do?

The White-winged Fairy-wren eats insects, especially beetles(Coleoptera) and  also spiders (Araneae). It also eats some seeds of the plant genera Rhagodia, Chenopodium (saltbush for example), Euphorbia (Spurges) and Portulaca.  Its small size allows this species to glean from leaves and stems of dense shrubs. It also hop-searches on the ground, and makes brief aerial sorties to catch insects.


The White-winged Fairy-wren is socially monogomous but sexually promiscuous.  It is a cooperative breeder and appears to live in groups.  Its nest is built by the female and is a domed structure measuring 10 x 6cm, with a side entrance. The nest is made from fine grasses, lined with plant down and feathers. It is usually less than 1m above ground, in the middle of dense thorny bush. The female incubates the eggs and  all members of the group feed the chicks for about four weeks. The young remain in the family group.

Living with us

Populations of White-winged fairy-wrens have decreased due to various types of habitat destruction - clearing of chenopod shrublans and of lignum thickets in periodically flooded lake beds, in western New South Wales; clearing of native vegetation in the Murray-Mallee region; heavy grazing of bluebrush and saltbush areas; and irrigation in in the Murray valley. Populations are also adversely affected, at least in the short term, by burning of their habitat. Increased salinisation in some areas appears to be of benefit.

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