IT’S official. The superb fairy-wren has been named Australia’s favourite bird.
The beautiful little species that brings such magic to Tasmanian gardens each summer with its friendly nature has won a national poll to identify the country’s most-loved feathered creature.
The vote was organised by BirdLife Australia during Bird Week 2013 in October and the research and conservation organisation reports that a poll of 8000 bird lovers revealed a “very close race” for top spot between the fairy-wren, also called the blue wren in Tasmania, and the magpie.
A big surprise in the popularity stakes nationally was the hooded plover which took third spot, ahead of the laughing kookaburra.
The superb fairy-wren is found throughout south-east Australia. The males of the species, which are coloured a simmering iridescent blue, have been dubbed the least faithful birds in the world owing to their rampant promiscuity. Female birds have been observed being courted by 13 males in a half-hour period.
Another remarkable thing about the fairy-wrens is that they are one of the few birds to recognise the threat cuckoos pose to them. Recent research has found that many fairy-wren parents have learned to abandon nests when they find them suddenly occupied by a lone, giant cuckoo chick which has clearly ousted the other young members of the family.
BirdLife Australia does not give a state breakdown of voting but clearly there are birds on the list which are not appreciated here. And two, the willie wagtail and the bush stone-curlew, are not found here at all.
The kookaburra might be a potent symbol of wild Australia but it is not native to Tasmania and, following its introduction at the beginning of the last century, it has done untold harm to native species of not just birds but small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
The rainbow lorikeet, which comes in at number five on the BirdLife Australia list, has recently been introduced to Tasmania and is already causing problems by competing for tree-cavity nesting sites with native parrots, the threatened swift parrot among them.
Perhaps the most remarkable inclusion on the list is the hooded plover, proving that Australian bird-lovers are at last paying attention to the less glamorous and colourful members of the county’s avifauna.
The hooded plover – a bird only about 20 centimetres in length – often goes unnoticed as it scurries about beaches where it feeds and breeds.
Nationally, however, the hooded plover has been under serious threat because of increasing disturbance by people and their dogs and horses, and four-wheel drive vehicles, on beaches.
The situation has, however, been turned around in Victoria by an active Friends of the Hooded Plover movement which educates beach-goers about the species and its nesting needs. The Friends also protect nesting sites, usually at the back of beaches where sand becomes sand dune during the spring and summer.
Luckily, the hooded plover – so named because it has a black hood on a white and grey body – is still relatively common on Tasmanian shores.
The editor of BirdLife Australia’s magazine, Sean Dooley, said the fairy-wren triumphed because off its combination of good looks and regular appearances in backyards in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania.
Celebrities including Julia Zemiro and Dave Hughes campaigned for their favourite species during Bird Week.
The full BirdLife Australia top 10 is:
Superb fairy-wren, magpie, hooded plover, laughing kookaburra, rainbow lorikeet, tawny frogmouth, willie wagtail, spotted pardalote, bush stone-curlew and galah.
If I was drawing up a Tasmanian list, based on all the correspondence I have received over the years, I’d make it: Fairy-wren, scarlet robin, green rosella, white goshawk, wedge-tailed eagle, pied oystercatcher, yellow-tailed black cockatoo, new holland honeyeater, spotted pardalote and native-hen.