The two fairy-bluebirds are small passerine bird species found in forests and plantations in tropical southern Asia and the Philippines. They are the sole members of the genus Irena and family Irenidae, and are related to the ioras and leafbirds.
|Asian fairy-bluebird - male|
|Scientific classification |
|Irena puella light green, |
Irena cyanogaster dark green
These are bulbul-like birds of open forest or thorn scrub, but whereas that group tends to be drab in colouration, fairy-bluebirds are sexually dimorphic, with the males being dark blue in plumage, and the females duller green.
These species eat fruit, especially figs, and possibly some insects. They lay two to three eggs in a tree nest.
The call of the Asian fairy-bluebird is a liquid two note Glue-It.
The first scientists to examine fairy-bluebirds placed them in the roller genus Coracias, presumably on the strength of the iridescent blue plumage on the back. This was challenged in the 1820s by Thomas Horsfield and Coenraad Temminck, who suggested a relationship instead with the drongos. It was variously placed with the bulbuls and orioles as well. On the basis of the DNA-DNA hybridization studies of Sibley and Alhquist its closest relatives have now been identified as the leafbirds. The leafbirds are sometimes included in the family Irenidae with the fairy-bluebirds, but the time since the apparent divergence suggests that they are better treated as separate families.
Fairy-bluebirds are robust birds that resemble Old World orioles in shape and size. Males are larger than females, and the two species weigh between 50-100 g, with some of that variation being caused by sexual differences and some by geographic variation. There are clines in size differences in both species which can be attributed to Bergmann's rule, with the northernmost populations being larger on average. Both species have a powerful deep and notched bill used for crushing, with that of the Philippine species being larger. Their feet are small, which suggests that they spend less time climbing in order to feed and more time on the wing.
The plumage of the fairy-bluebirds is exceptional, with the upperparts being deep rich blue. The Asian fairy-bluebird is sexually dimorphic in its plumage, the male being much brighter than the female, but the Philippine fairy-bluebird exhibits much less difference and the female is almost as bright as the male. The deep colour is provided by specialised naked feather-tip barbs. Although the fairy-bluebirds are highly visible in sunlight they are much less visible in the shade of the forest.
Distribution and habitat
The Asian fairy-bluebird has a discontinuous distribution from India to Java and Vietnam. In India the species is present in the south west of the country and in the north east. From Burma it has a continuous distribution (in suitable habitat) throughout most of South East Asia, and down into Borneo and Sumatra, as well as on the Andaman Islands. The species has not been reliably recorded on Sri Lanka since the 1870s. The Philippine fairy-bluebird is found on Luzon, Polillo, Leyte, Samar, Mindanao, Dinagat and Basilan.
The fairy-bluebirds are dependent upon fruit producing forests, but both species seem to exist in a wide range of forests, both evergreen and semi-evergreen. Within forests they are generally found in the canopy.
Pairs or small groups (individuals are seldom seen alone) of fairy-bluebirds forage widely to obtain food. Fruit, particularly figs in the genus Ficus, are the most important item in the diet of fairy-bluebirds. Fairy-bluebirds will generally eat fruit of a certain size, and will crush larger fruits in order to make them manageable. Most food is obtained in the canopy. In addition to fruit berries may be eaten, as well as nectar, although this behaviour has only been reported in birds in India. In contrast to adults, however, insects are the principal component of the diet of nestlings. In the Philippines birds have been observed following troops of macaques, possibly in order to collect flushed insects.
Male courtship displays include elaborate vocalizations, which the female responds to with nest building. Nests are constructed in trees or tall bushes from twigs, moss and grasses, and males and females cooperate in rearing chicks.
In old Tagalog mythology in southern Luzon (Philippines), the fairy bluebirds were known as the tigmamanukan omen birds. All of which were the omen birds of Bathala, the supreme god of the Tagalog people prior to the arrival of the Spanish. According to legend, Bathala ordered a tigmamanukan bird to crack in one peck the bamboo which let out the first man, Malakas, and first woman, Maganda. In another legend, Bathala also sends the tigmamanukan bird (sometimes the tigmamanukan snake or lizard as there are three tigmamanukan forms) to aid mankind if they need to proceed or halt a journey. If a traveler sees a tigmamanukan omen, and it passes from right to left, then it symbolizes as labay (Bathala's approval to proceed with the journey). If the tigmamanukan omen passes from left to right, the traveller should not proceed, or else he or she will never return. All tigmamanukan omen birds are said to live in the mythical Mount Batala (a sacred mountain of Bathala).
- Wells, D. (2005) "Family Irenidae" Pp. 268-277 in del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2005). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 10: Cuckoo-Shrikes to Thrushes. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-72-5
- Ken Stott, Jr. (1947) "Fairy Bluebird: Long-Tailed Macaque Association on Mindanao" Auk 64 (1): 130
- "Fairy Bluebird Fact Sheet, Lincoln Park Zoo"
- Fairy-bluebird videos on the Internet Bird Collection