Identifying female fairy-wrens

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Do you also get confused when identifying female fairy-wrens? Unlike their male counterparts, females are quit difficult to distinguish out in the wild. All Australian fairy-wrens are named after male plumage which is quite understandable considering how similar females can be.

There are no purple crowns or red backs amongst the females, and while they may be splendid and superb, they are certainly not easy to identify. Here is my guide to identifying these birds.

My preferred tip for identification is simply to look for the brightly coloured male accompanying the female. However nature is not always so kind, it's quite amazing how often the male will be hidden in the bush.

If this doesn't work out, the next two tips will be to concentrate on the face and more precisely the colour combination of bill, lores and eye-ring. Also, adding to that tail colour will be helpful. If you can combine facial and tail colourings together you should be able to make a confident identification.

Lovely Fairy-wren

Credit © Graeme Chapman and Luke Seitz

Easiest of the females to identify is the Lovely Fairy-wren which is mainly blue with the only brown to be seen on the wings. They are pretty unique in plumage and features.

Purple-crowned Fairy-wren

Credit © Greg Oakley and Marc Gardner

Another unmistakable one is the Purple-crowned. Although, the female doesn't have a bright purple crown they do have a dark brown patch on the ear-coverts which is unique to the species.

These two species are relatively easy to identify, things get a lot trickier with the remaining 7 species.

White-winged Fairy-wren

Credit © Richard Hall Oakley and Roksana and Terry

The female white-winged is one of the plainest of all. They are mostly pale grey with no facial markings at all. Adding to this the traces of blue on the tail should help you identify the species.

Red-backed Fairy-wren

Credit © Chris Tzaros and Ian Davies

The female red-backed is mostly brown and is the only Australian species to have no traces of blue whatsoever on the plumage.

The remaining 5 species get even trickier to identify as they all have the same features and colour variations.

Credit © Tracy Oliver, Shelley Pearson, Peter Jacobs

This his how complex it gets.. can you spot the differences between these girls?

The trick to identifying these females lies in the facial markings. In Superbs, the lores and eye rings will be the same orange-red colour as the bill. In Splendids however the lores and eye-rings will be paler than the bill. With the Variegated, the lores and eye-rings will actually be darker and contrast with the bill. Confused yet?

Credit © Rohan Clarke and Chris Tzaros

Now for our final two species which to some degree are easier to identify. The Blue-breasted fairy-wren has a richer and darker chestnut-red bill. The red-winged is the odd one out, it is the only female to have a dark black bill. It is also the only female to have no distinguishable eye rings.

#fairywren #birdidentification #birdsofaustralia

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