Have you seen a blue Superb Fairy-wren lately?

The Superb Fairy-wren is one of Australia’s most recognisable and favourite birds. And who doesn’t enjoy watching the antics of these charismatic, active and social backyard visitors? But did you know that the males undergo a seasonal colour change?

The striking iridescent blue with highly contrasting black and grey markings of the male Superb Fairy-wren is instantly recognisable. But the males only adopt this colouring for the duration of the breeding season in the warmer months. There is a good evolutionary reason for moulting twice a year, instead of once a year like most other birds.

While these little birds are socially monagamous, they are sexually promiscuous. They live in family groups and the dominant male and female form a stable pair to raise young, but both partners will mate with many individuals from other groups. So males adopt showy, noticeable colouring to attract as many females from nearby groups as possible.

As the breeding season ends and we move into winter, the breeding males revert to the duller, grey-brown colour of females, juveniles and non-breeding males. During this time insects become less abundant and the birds need to spend the majority of their time in the open foraging.

Being extremely attractive to the ladies has its cost. Fairy-wrens are vulnerable to predation from larger native birds such as Magpies, Kookaburras and Currawongs as well as introduced mammals like the fox and cat. Although brilliant blue feathers may be extremely attractive to females, it also makes the breeding males highly conspicuous to predators.

And the birds seem to be aware of this too. A study conducted by Monash University and Australian National University found that plumage colour changed behaviour.

The researchers played low-level and high-level alarm calls to the birds through portable speakers. Birds were fitted with coloured leg bands allowing the team to track individual birds’ responses.

The team found that males in their blue plumage were much more cautions than in their brown plumage. They reacted to low-level alarm calls more readily and took a longer time to come out from shelter.

The behaviour of other birds in the group was also affected. When a blue male was nearby, other wrens were less responsive to alarm calls and devoted less time to keeping a look-out.

The results suggest that the seasonal colour change is an adaptation that allows the birds to have the best of both worlds: they can be sexually attractive and bright while breeding, but also dull coloured and difficult to detect by predators outside the breeding season.

Buy local this Mother’s day

If drought and bushfires weren’t enough COVID-19 and the associated restrictions have certainly made operating a small business difficult.

Social distancing has meant many businesses have had to significantly modify their operations. The hospitality and tourism sectors have been heavily impacted by having to reduce their hours or even close their doors completely for the foreseeable future. Additionally, may farmers and producers without a shopfront have had to contend with the cancellation of markets and events.

Many are adapting by offering online sales and deliveries or even diversifying the products or services they offer. With Mother’s day just over a week away, you can do your bit by supporting a local business when shopping for a gift this year.

Many big businesses now routinely use social media in their marketing campaigns, but trending hashtags, such as #buylocal and #buyfromthebush, have shown that consumers want to support local communities.

The #buyfromthebush campaign was started in 2019 to encourage city consumers to support drought stricken farmers and small rural businesses. In social media terms it was a huge success, attracting 130,000 followers in 7 weeks and boosting rural postage figures by 40%. And for good reason. Every dollar spent in the local community makes a difference, particularly in rural and regional areas.

Supporting small local businesses and self-employed people has a positive impact on the local economy and creates local jobs. Buying goods or services from local farmers, producers, designers and tradespeople puts money in their pockets and this has a ripple effect. As local businesses prosper and grow they provide more employment, more money circulates in the local economy and, in turn, they can provide you with more products and more choice.

Many items in today’s marketplace often travel half way around the world before they reach us. So buying locally grown and made items not only reduces the carbon footprint but when it comes to food, provides a more seasonal and nutritious option.

While the internet makes it possible to buy goods from anywhere in the world, due to the volume required these are generally one-size-fits all, generic items. Locally grown or locally made products from locally owned businesses provide a more unique and personal option, often with a story behind it. And when it comes to a gift what is more appreciated?

Even without the new, added challenges, many rural communities and businesses are struggling to compete with chain stores, multinationals and internet shopping. By keeping your money local this Mother’s day you can help to make Mudgee and it’s surrounding towns and villages more viable and sustainable.