Southern Emu-wren Click to enlarge image
Southern Emu-wren Image: David Cook
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Fast Facts

  • Australian Federal Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    18 cm to 20 cm

The emu-wrens are named for their six wispy, emu-like tail feathers.


The Southern Emu-wren is a tiny bird with a long (10 cm) filamentous tail, made up of six feathers, which is usually held upright. Male birds are grey-brown streaked black above, warm tawny brown below, with a distinctive blue chin and throat and some blue around the eyes. Females are similar but lack the blue colouration. This species is shy and has a weak flight, preferring to spend most of its time low in dense cover and will run like a mouse, with its tail down.

The Mallee Emu-wren, S. mallee, is similar but has an un-streaked head, is less tawny brown below and the males have the blue extending more up around the eyes and face. It is a rare species that has a much more restricted range.


The Southern Emu-wren is found in a variety of moist dense scrublands, heaths with grass trees, coastal heathlands, tea-tree vegetation and, in Western Australia, in low scrub and dune vegetation on sandhills.


The Southern Emu-wren is found along the east coast of Australia from south-eastern Queensland through to Tasmania and west to south-eastern South Australia. It is also found along the coast of Western Australia from Shark Bay to Israelite Bay and inland to Norseman.



Feeding and diet

The Southern Emu-wren eats insects and spiders gleaned from within thick foliage, rarely appearing on the ground or above the shrub canopy. Foraging parties of up to 40 birds may form outside the breeding season.


Soft reedy chirp: 'prip prip'; males have short descending song like fairy-wrens but higher-pitched.

Breeding behaviours

The Southern Emu-wren breeds in pairs, with the male defending a small territory with regular bursts of song. The female builds a oval-shaped dome nest with a round entrance at the side. It is made from and lined with grasses and placed near the ground in a grass tussock or dense shrubbery. The female incubates the eggs and both parents feed the young, which remain with them for up to two months after fledging.

  • Breeding Season: August to January
  • Clutch size: Two to four
  • Incubation: 12 days
  • Time in nest: 11 days

Conservation status

The Southern Emu-wren has suffered where suitable habitats have become fragmented and its conservation status ranges from locally common to vulnerable or endangered, depending on location.


  • Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. 1997. Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.
  • Schodde, R. and Tideman, S.C. (eds) 1990. Reader's Digest Complete Book of Australian Birds (2nd Edition). Reader's Digest (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney.
  • Serventy, V.N. (ed) 1982. The Wrens and Warblers of Australia. Angus and Robertson and the Australian Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.
  • Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition. Penguin Books, Australia.