Family Fairy-wrens (Maluridae)

Least Concern

Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus)


French: Mérion à dos rouge German: Rotrücken-Staffelschwanz Spanish: Maluro dorsirrojo

Muscicapa melanocephala


, 1801,

New Holland = near Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


See M. alboscapulatus. Races differ in intensity of reddish in plumage and in size, but intergrade in NE Queensland, with hybridization zone between Endeavour R and Burdekin R. Genetic structure suggests that populations of cruentatus E of Gulf of Carpentaria are more closely related to nominate than to other populations of cruentatus#R, while acoustic evidence suggests a degree of mismatch between plumage and song traits#R; further study needed. Two subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • M. m. cruentatus Gould, 1840 – N Western Australia (from Cape Keraudren) E, N of 20° S, to N Queensland (S to base of Cape York Peninsula and Charters Towers).
  • M. m. melanocephalus (Latham, 1801) – NE Queensland (E Cape York Peninsula) S along coast to E New South Wales.
  • Descriptive notes

    10–12·5 cm; 6–8 g. Male nominate race in Bright plumage is satiny black except for dusky-brown primaries and fiery orange scapulars, back and rump; iris... read more


    Soft reel with weak introductory notes. Contact call a quiet “ssst”; alarm a shrill... read more


    Wide variety of vegetation, especially with tall grassy ground cover and sparse tree cover, mostly... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly insects, e.g. ants (Formicidae), cockroaches (Blattodea), beetles (Coleoptera), grasshoppers (Orthoptera), caterpillars; also some... read more


    Egg-laying recorded in all months except Jun, but mostly in wet season. Socially monogamous but sexually promiscuous; remains paired... read more


    Sedentary; tends to wander locally outside breeding season.

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common throughout its current range. Appears to have withdrawn from areas of large-scale human settlement with less suitable tall grassland available... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rowley, I. & Russell, E. (2019). Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 20 July 2019).