Spring foe, Winter friend—cooperative behaviour trends in superb fairy-wrens

A new Proceedings B paper explores the seasonal variation in cooperative behaviour displayed by superb fairy-wrens. Lead author, Ettore Camerlenghi, tells us more.

Why do some group-living animals live in a state of conflict with neighbouring groups while other species form peaceful multilevel societies, where groups can interact, tolerate each other, or even cooperate? A little Australian songbird, the superb fairy-wren, might provide clues to better understand what conditions promote intergroup harmony.

Read the rest of the article here.



Social restructuring in harsh conditions promotes cooperative behaviour in songbirds

The superb fairy-wrens provided an ideal system for this investigation due to their multilevel society, which undergoes seasonal restructuring.

During the breeding season, individual groups defend territories, while in the non-breeding season, these groups coalesce into larger communities. By observing their behaviour in response to distress calls during both seasons, researchers assessed how social dynamics and environmental harshness influence cooperative behaviour.

Read the rest of the article here.


Wildfire threatens the survival of endangered purple-crowned fairy-wrens living along the rivers and creeks of northern Australia, our new research has found.

For almost two decades, we studied the fairy-wrens at a wildlife sanctuary in the far north of Western Australia. Over this time, one low-intensity fire and one high-intensity fire burnt through our study site. Both occurred late in the wet season, when fires generally burn at lower intensity.

Read the rest of theconversation article here.


Endangered fairy-wrens survive Kimberley floods

When ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie inundated the Kimberley with record flooding earlier this year the region and its inhabitants experienced large-scale devastation. This included the area’s native wildlife, with mass loss of life and habitat. But now, amidst the loss, there’s some good news to share.

Read the rest of the article here.

Fieldwork in floodwaters

January 2nd, 2023. We had taken our radios to bed the night before, just as a precaution. The water was already up to the parking area, which was as high as anyone had ever seen it, and it was still raining. I dislike rain generally and resent the periodic floods of the Wet season because they wash away the nests we’ve found, but I was looking forward to sleeping past 3:45am. It’s too dangerous to work along the creek when it’s raging, so storms give us a brief break from crack-of-dawn nest searching.

Read the rest of the article here.

Fairy-wrens are more likely to help their closest friends but not strangers, just like us humans.

Multilevel societies are among the most complex societies known in nature. They are organised like Russian nesting dolls – individuals belong to family groups, which belong to clans, which belong to tribes. At each level, the relationships between these social units (individuals, families, clans and tribes) are stable and predictable. Such a social structure, which has been described in some primates , whales, elephants and more recently in birds, has likely characterised much of human evolution. In fact, it’s still common among many hunter-gatherer societies around the world.

Even though multilevel societies are documented across the animal world, it’s not entirely clear what their benefits are.

Read the rest of theconversation article here.

Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary evacuation

Each year countless purple-crowned fairy-wren nests are washed away in monsoonal floods that sweep across northern Australia. On 2 January, the Monash researchers studying fairy-wren ecology at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s (AWC) Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in the Central Kimberley got their own taste of these floods when ex-tropical cyclone Ellie brought once-in-a-century floods to the region. Researchers and AWC staff living on sanctuary during the flood were safely evacuated to Broome. Although the waters have receded at the research station, it will likely be some months before conservation and research activity will resume.

PCFW researchers (l to r): Gill Holmes, Ian Hoppe, Ari La Porte, and Aidan Colligan preparing to evacuate Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. At right, up to 2.5 m of water flooded into the AWC research facilities at Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary (Ari La Porte and Josh Guthrie/AWC).

Ornaments are equally informative in male and female birds.

New paper published:
Nolazco S, Delhey K, Nakagawa S, Peters A. 2022. Ornaments are equally informative in male and female birds. Nature Communication. 13(1):5917. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-33548-7.


Female ornaments are often reduced, male-like traits. Although these were long perceived as non-functional, it is now broadly accepted that female ornaments can be adaptive. However, it is unclear whether this is as common in females as it is in males, and whether ornaments fulfil similar signalling roles. Here, we apply a bivariate meta-analysis to a large dataset of ornaments in mutually ornamented birds. As expected, female ornament expression tends to be reduced compared to males. However …..

View the paper here

We know heatwaves kill animals. But new research shows the survivors don’t get off scot-free

Extreme heat waves can cause birds and mammals to die en masse. But it’s more common for an animal to experience relatively mild heat stress that doesn’t kill it. Our new findings suggest that unfortunately, these individuals can suffer long-term health damage.

Our study, published today, describes how exposure to hot and dry conditions can damage the DNA of nestling birds in their first few days of life. This can mean they age earlier, die younger and produce less offspring.

Read the rest of theconversation article here.

“AWC in Conversation” live Webinar

For more than 15 years, a team of scientists led by Professor Anne Peters of Monash University has been studying a population of the Purple-crowned Fairy-wren, one of northern Australia’s most exquisite birds. Their wide-ranging project has uncovered fascinating details about the fairy-wrens’

Click there to watch the video

(The most social) bird of the year: why superb fairy-wren societies may be as complex as our own

One mystery many biologists want to solve is how complexity develops in nature. And among the many social systems in the natural world, multilevel societies stand out for their complexity. Individuals first organise into families, which are members of bands, which are organised into clans.

Read the rest of theconversation article here.

Iconic Australian fairy-wrens live in complex multilevel society, international study finds

The research team studied social behaviour in a wild population of superb fairy-wrens, that breed cooperatively in small groups. They tracked almost 200 birds over two years by attaching a different coloured leg band to each individual. During this time, they observed who was hanging out with who and used their observations to build a complex network of the birds’ social associations.

Read the full article here

Fairy-wrens calculate their benefits when coming to aid others threatened by predators

Avoiding predation is key for surviving in the wild and helping with predator defense seems a risky, selfless act.

“Such seemingly altruistic helping behaviour has puzzled biologists for a long time, because it does not make sense to risk your own life to help others without some offsetting benefits, but these have been hard to identify,” said lead study author Dr Niki Teunissen from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.

Read the full article here 

Publication 100!

Press release:

Purple Crowned Fairy Wren unlocks key to immune function

“Maintaining constitutive immune function (immune surveillance) is important for individuals to be prepared for new infections, but is potentially costly to the individual,” said lead study author, Dr Michael Roast, from the Monash University School of Biological Sciences.

“These costs can’t be measured using experimental methods that introduce immune challenges,” he said.

Read the full article here


Roast Michael J., Aranzamendi Nataly Hidalgo, Fan Marie, Teunissen Niki, Hall Matthew D. and Peters Anne 2020. Fitness outcomes in relation to individual variation in constitutive innate immune function. Proc. R. Soc. B.2872020199720201997. doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.1997



Rewilding immunology

With the Wild Comparative Immunology (WACI) consortium we published an important message on integrating traditional immunology, wildlife ecology and a range of model organisms. We called it “Rewilding immunology” and it came out in Science!

Flies AS, WACI Consortium. 2020. Rewilding immunology. Science 369 (6499), 37-38

Another Dr

And another Dr completes the quartet! 
Dr. Roast on Eco-Immunology!

Watch out for those Dr. Teunissen publications

Teunissen N, SA Kingma & A Peters. Nest defence and offspring provisioning in a cooperative bird: individual subordinates vary in total contribution, but no division of tasks among breeders and subordinates. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 74(7): 1-9.
Teunissen N, SA Kingma & A Peters. Predator defense is shaped by risk, brood value and social group benefits in a cooperative breeder. Behav Ecol 2020/3/20. 

Another Dr!

Dr. Teunissen, thesis accepted as-is!

New Publication

The hardest paper we ever put together, but it was worth the effort:

Purple-crowned fairy-wren favours rain for breeding.

The study confirms that our monsoonal birds, just like birds from the arid zone, are highly tuned to rainfall, something that was previously suspected but not formally quantified.

The researchers followed more than 500 nesting attempts from almost 200 pairs over five years to test which external factors regulate reproduction.

The results of the study are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Read the full article here

Another Dr!

Dr. McQueen, with flying colours !

Student award success!

Sergio Nolazco Plasier was awarded a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant for the project “Why are females ornamented? Testing competing hypotheses in an Australian passerine with mutual ornamentation” 

Ettore Camerlenghi was awarded Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant for the project “Social networking during the non-breeding season: drivers and fitness implications of social complexity” 

Sergio Nolazco Plasier was awarded a BirdLife Student Travel Award to attend the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour Conference in Waiheke Island, July 2019
Niki Teunissen was awarded a BirdLife Student Travel Award to attend the Australasian Ornithological Conference in Darwin, July 2019

New Publications

Kaspar published two very cool papers on Gloger’s Rule:

Delhey, K, J Dale, M Valcu & B Kempenaers. 2019. Reconciling ecogeographical rules: rainfall and temperature predict global colour variation in the largest bird radiation. Ecology Letters 22: 726–736. Doi:10.1111/ele.13233 


Delhey, K. 2019. A review of Gloger’s rule, an ecogeographical rule of colour: definitions, interpretations and evidence. Biological Reviews. Doi:10.1111/brv.12503 

Another Dr!

It’s official – we have a DR. Fan!!

New Publication

Michael’s first PhD chapter

New Publications

Justin strikes twice: an exciting telomere paper

and an exciting malaria paper

New Publication 

Niki’s first paper was published in the Behavioral Ecology, more evidence how clever those helpers are, and how complex and rich the social system of the purple-crowned fairy-wrens. You can read all about it here.

New Publication 

Marie’s second paper was published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, it is a lovely paper. Check out the press release and video here.

Check out the PDFhere. 


We are very proud that Sjouke has been awarded The 2018 Dutch Zoology Prize (Nederlandse Zoölogieprijs 2018) for his work on ecological and evolutionary processes underlying group living and cooperation in animals.

Alex won BirdLife Australia & Birds New Zealand Prize for the best student talk at the Australasian Ornithological Conference 2017, and Michael won runner-up best student poster at the same conference!

Australian Geographic feature 

Australian Geographic ran a feature on purple-crowned fairy-wrens!

New Publication 

Kaspar published a Primer on Gloger’s Rule in Current Biology


New Publication

It isn’t easy being blue: the cost of colour in fairy-wrens” was published today to accompany Alex’s first paper in Royal Society Proceedings B

New Publication

New Publication

Finally, Ecology and Evolution published the Honours research of Roe Little, it was worth the wait, it is a very nice looking paper:

Front cover of the special issue

Front cover of the special issue in Hormones and Behaviour for: “Personality and Innate Immune Defences in a wild bird: evidence for the pace-of-life hypothesis” …Nice picture by Kaspar Delhey

New Publication with a short title

Find the full paper here

New Publication

The effects of colour producing mechanisms on sexual dichromatism…are not particularly large, as we recently showed in Functional Ecology.  

New Publication

And now for something different, our review on potential effects of anthropogenic habitat modification on visual signalling and camouflage…very proud of this one.

New Publication

Finally! Long-awaited, our paper on immunity and personality of superb fairy-wrens came out! See the link to the full PDF here!

New Publication

Nataly’s first paper was published, Incest avoidance, extrapair paternity, and territory quality drive divorce in a year-round territorial bird in Behavioral Ecology, check out the paper here, and a popular press version here. This was featured on the ARC News page! Check it out

Successful field season

Marie, Michael and Niki returned from Mornington Sanctuary after a fabulously successful field season. They worked hard, and it paid off, well done!! Pictures follow soon….


Both Michael ánd Alex snapped up a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Student Grant, and Michael a Stuart Leslie Bird Research Award as well, that is fantastic news!!

Join us

Join us in the treasure hunt for the blue superb fairy-wren males of Lysterfield Park:

New Publication

New Publication

Marie was successful in getting a Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment Grant – well done Marie!!
Justin managed to snaffle funding to go to ISBE in 2016, nice and early!
and..we got money for a thermal imaging camera…more gadgets.

New Publication

Another paper by Janet,  now back at ANU, really happy with this one, it’s a great story: 

New Post-doc

Dr Justin Eastwood starting as post-doc to develop the telomere project! Warm welcome to Justin, great he’s on board, details will follow.

Field season May/June 2015 in full swing.

The wrens keep increasing (280 now) and a fantastic field team to follow them. Anne was lucky enough to get to see Mornington from the air.

Successful student applications

Two successful students applications: Alex McQueen will study superb fairy-wrens, and Marie Fan will join the purple-crowned fairy-wren team. Well done ladies! 

New Publication

Delhey K, V Delhey, B Kempenaers & A Peters. In press. A practical framework to analyse variation in animal colours using visual models. Behav. Ecol. 

We present a user-friendly approach to analyse colour variability that summarizes complex patterns of chromatic variation within the perceptual space of receivers. This novel framework integrates into a single analysis the two pieces of information usually derived from visual models: cone stimulation values and pairwise contrasts between colours. 

Check the paper out here.

Funding success! 

ARC Discovery grant success, Anne with collaborator Simon Verhulst (Groningen University) were awarded a DP15 “Immune defense, disease and damage control in the wild “. 

Watch this space, advert for post-doc to follow soon.

New Publication

New publication in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

Janet L Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, William J Sutherland, Leo Joseph, and Anne Peters 2014. Are natural history collections coming to an end as time-series? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment12: 436–438.

New Publication

New publication in press at Journal of Avian Biology

Temporal patterns of avian body size reflect linear size responses to broadscale environmental change over the last 50 years

Janet L. Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, Patrica R. Y. Backwell, Karen Ikin, William J. Sutherland and Anne Peters

Article first published online: 27 JUN 2014 | DOI: 10.1111/jav.00431

New Publication

A fantastic purple-crown fairy-wren season!
92 new birds banded, mostly fledglings, 159 captures in total, bringing our totals to more than 1000 banded birds and more than 2000 captures! 
And they also found a handful of long-distance dispersers, during an exciting trip through the Sanctuary….
Thanks to the team that made it happen: Stephanie, Nataly and Niki (here with ‘driver’ Mattia).

New Publication

Janet L. Gardner, Tatsuya Amano, Brendan G. Mackey, William J. Sutherland, Mark Clayton and Anne Peters

Dynamic size responses to climate change: prevailing effects of rising temperature drive long-term body size increases in a semi-arid passerine

Global Change Biology

Accepted manuscript online: 19 DEC 2013 | DOI: 10.1111/gcb.12507

New Publication

EMU special issue is out

Emu Volume 113 Number 3 2013