Regent Honeyeater feeding on a Grevillea flower at Taronga Zoo.

Australia has over 70 species of Honeyeater as wells as many other birds not classified as such which enjoy feeding on our nectar rich native flowers. Interesting enough, Australia’s native trees and shrubs grow in some the poorest soils in the world, and yet conversely are among the most nectar producing. Early settlers from Europe had discovered the acid soils were not suitable for growing food crops without first liming the soil, to render it slightly alkaline.

Above is one of Australia’s rarest and most endangered honeyeaters, the Regent Honeyeater, which Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney, has been breeding in captivity, to be released in large numbers into the wild every few years. Noticed the leg banding in photo top of page, whereas birds below and above,  I have seen in the wild and are non-banded birds (now a rarity) seen in Capertee National Park, a locked park especially for these birds to breed, by the Capertee River,.

Regent Honeyeater feeding from Mugga Ironbark blossom near the Capertee River

When the British settlers arrived these birds existed in huge flocks that moved about inland Australia, west of the Great Dividing Range, and mainly bred in the Capertee Valley, NSW  and around Chiltern, Victoria. In the last eight years nesting numbers have drastically declined as the bird struggles to find breeding mates and sustainable food sources. During the non breeding part of the year it flies over the mountains east of Capertee toward the coast, to lush eucalypt forests west of the Central Coast near Newcastle to feed.

Mugga Ironbark blossom

The Regent Honeyeater can feed on nectar from many species of flower, however it is the nectar of the Ironbark tree, one of Australia’s hardest hardwoods that provides the most nutritious nectar for this bird. Sadly, most of these trees were cut down by British settlers for railway sleepers to build our train line system, but they take many decades to grow to full size and almost every large tree has been felled. Sadly also, the current government are allowing the continuous destruction of our native forests at an alarming rate and the feeding habitat of many birds and Koalas is disappearing rapidly.

The two commonest nectar and high volume nectar producing shrubs in Australian gardens and reserves are  Callistemons commonly known as Bottlebrush and the other is from the Grevillea of which many subspecies exist.  Honeyeaters have a long tubular tongue which they use like a straw, reaching down into the flower, they poke out their tongue, suck the nectar and then with draw it at a rapid rate. Sometimes they leave it protruding while feeding, as in the Little Wattlebird below.

Little Wattlebird with protruding tongue on a Robyn Gordon Grevillea

Even birds of the Parrot family such as the Rainbow Lorikeet are some of the first birds I hear each morning feeding on our Bottlebrush, which flowers for most of the year. This tree is over fifty years old. These birds unlike others in their family are primarily nectar and pollen feeders though they also feed on berries and other small native fruits. Their noisy chatter is heard as male and female constantly communicate while feeding. Watch how the Lorikeet uses his tongue.

Another point of interest is the fact that parrots have a larger thicker tongue for manipulating seed pods, yet they are able to flick the nectar into their mouth, as nectar is a high energy prize food, which many birds chase after each day, especially first thing in the morning after their long sleep.

The Musk Lorikeet likewise prefers nectar rich eucalypt blossom, and follows the flowering trees as each species flowers. Each species flowers at different times of the year, providing year long food for most, just as each species of native fig fruits at different times providing food all year round.

An important aspect of the Australian bush is the importance of nectar eating birds to pollinate the flowers of the eucalypt trees, and so keep them flourishing. They also carry and redistribute seed dispersing it through their faeces.

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Recent research has verified that Honeyeaters and Hummingbirds have amazing capacity to remember the exact location of the flowers they have visited in a day, and how long they need to wait till each flower has replenished its nectar. I see my same local honeyeaters return for nectar to the same flower several times a day to check it. Experiments were done to test this, and when the flowers were moved to another location the bird turned up and looked confused when it did not find the flowers where it had navigated were meant to be there.

Several species honeyeater species have long curved beaks to enable access deep into tubular flowers, where many other species are unable to reach. Two such species are the Eastern Spinebill (seen in our local Sydney national parks) and the Olive-backed Sunbird (found in far north Queensland).  Notice protruding tongues on both above birds.

In my book you can see an example of the Sunbird with its beak in a flower. It is our Aussie closest to a Hummingbird, in that it is able to draw nectar while hovering in flight with rapid wing movement, which is barely visible.

Olive-back Sunbird female hovering in flight, about to draw nectar

Even the much maligned and aggressive Noisy Miner is a native Aussie honeyeater, to the surprise of many locals, and daily joins the  Rainbow Lorikeets in checking our Bottlebrush flowers as well as using our birdbath facilities.

There are times during the year when nectar is scarce, as in our recent long hot drought, but usually during the winter months when less flowers are blooming, it can be a challenge for honeyeaters that rely heavily on nectar for health. For some honeyeaters in the winter months such as the Spinebills, the Mountain Devil flower and Banksia supply the only nectar in the wild till spring flowers.

Eastern Spinebill on a Mountain Devil flower during Winter at the Blue Mountains NP

Honeyeaters also eat many species of insects and worms, small berries and especially Lerps, which is the sugar high substitute for nectar. Lerps is the coating on the larvae of the Psyllid insect, or tree lice, which suck sap from eucalypt trees. Honeyeaters have learned to harvest the outer coating without removing the insect, though many bird species eat both.

Bell Miner eating lerps. Notice the dead spots on the leaves.

Sadly the Noisy and Bell Miners use aggressive behaviour to prevent other birds, such as Spotted and Striated Pardolote, from accessing their trees, as these birds actually live on the insect larvae as well as the lerps.

In the above photo the lerps is the white substance on the leaf. The chemicals in the larvae actually cause browning and eventually death to the leaves (see also above), which is causing much concern among conservationists, as Miners guard and prevent other birds from eating the insect.

Bell Miners attacking Wattlebird, which also is a honeyeater.

One of the ways the Bell Miners achieve their goal is in the way they work together as an organised social unit. The female adults care for the young in the nursery while males protect the perimeter from intruders forming coalitions which are constantly on guard. The deafening sound of the many Bell Miners (or Bellbirds) chiming also acts as a deterrent to birds sensitive hearing.


Have a wonderful week out and about those of us who are not in lock down or covered in snow.

Weather has been wintry on and off in the middle of this our Summer and has not been good for birds or birding. I’m sure some hot days are around the corner.

If this is your first visit to my blog and website, Welcome ! Take a few moments to check out my home page and the birding resources made available on my pages.


In my fascination for the way Honeyeaters remember location and timings for the visit of each flower (mentioned above), it caused me to ponder the importance of doing everything at its right time. If the bird returns too soon it has wasted precious time, and will go unrewarded and under nourished if it does it consistently. This will cause it anxt and frustration, as it does for myself at times when I should have waited but impatiently rushed in, only to be disappointed. There is a lot to be said for planning and timing and waiting.

“The wait is as much journey as the motion, because timing is pivotal.” – ― Innocent Mwatsikesimbe

Trust in God’s timing. It’s better to wait a while and have things fall into place than to rush and have things fall apart.” – a wise saying from insttagod.org

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” – Romans 5:6


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W. A. Hewson (Adv. Dip. Counselling & Family Therapy).

‘To introduce people to our unique Australian birds,

So we can learn from them how to live a healthy and happy life.’

NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed  by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.

 

20 Comments »

  1. Informative with beautiful pics and videos as always 😊 what a beautiful tree to have bloom year round outside your window to draw in such a bird show! You are blessed to be surrounded by such beauty!
    I hope you and your family are all well, God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jen, yes the Bottlebrush is very old and large now and is a feature in our courtyard for both shade for us and nectar and a place to nest for the birds. We can watch them from our window at branch level each morning as they feed. They have gradually become use to us watching them feed and wash in the bird baths beneath the tree. Thanks for the blessing and we pray you and your family are well and are kept safe through this time. Richest blessings my friend, and joy the week 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Ash,

    It is a rather mild and sunny day here in Japan, with bright sunshine and some of local birds singing outside. It was perfect timing to catch up on your latest post, with much thought-provoking information as always (and many a reason for us to reflect on our own actions, and how they can and do affect everything around us). Learning a bit more about the Regent Honeyeater especially, was an eye-opening experience, as no honey-eaters reside here naturally.

    The way you ended this article, with a gentle reminder to trust for the right timing, resonated with me deeply. We hope you enjoy the rest of the day and evening. I just sent you a long email, and as always may you and Mrs H have a blessed week ahead! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Takami, for your welcome comment. Yes, sadly conservation is not a high priority with our present government, despite being led by a Christian PM. The Zoo did plant tracking devices on some of the Regent Honeyeaters to track where they actually go to, and because these banded birds have not been trained in the wild they are habituating unusual places. I did receive your email and will reply tomorrow when I have more time, but will keep your requests active. Enjoy your lovely warm days, we are having the same today also, a very different Summer from last year, so much nicer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much, for your detailed and informative reply! I am very glad you are having pleasant weather as well – a great blessing indeed 🙂

        As always please only write when/if you have the time. I didn’t mean to rush you. (Some of my emails have been getting lost in transit in recent days, so I just wanted to give a simple heads-up.) Wishing you a good evening!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Ashley, I enjoyed your photos of the honeyeaters. It is sad that the trees important to them are being destroyed, this kind of thing is happening all over the country. You may have heard during the week about the court case about logging down here in Tassie which was lost by the Bob Brown Foundation. So the endangered swift parrot probably doesn’t have a good chance of survival now, which also goes for the other endangered birds and animals down here since logging will just continue on now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sue, yes it is a terrible travesty the way governments favour selfish corporations that have no regard for our fragile environment. I am amazed there are any trees left in Tassie with the number of trees being continuously felled for paper. Enjoy the weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another wonderful post! So, hummingbirds are part of this same honeyeater family? I just read an article about them. One of many amazing details is that they have “a long, forked tongue….The tongue opens up when inserted into a flower and the nectar is pumped up the tongue via two grooves…up to 20 times per second.”
    Details like that and in your post really make me wonder, how can such a powerful, “consuming fire” create with such unbelievable perfected details? We’ll have eternity to worship and serve Him and find out the answers! Thank you brother for your ministry of stirring our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa Beth, for your encouraging words, and for investigating your amazing Hummingbirds which I would so love to see. Similar to our many species of Honeyeater you have many of the Hummingbirds, and they are of the smallest birds. Like yourself, I stand in awe and wonder at our Lord’s amazing creative ability and artistic design and colour. Enjoy your weekend dear sister 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I see you have a deep consideration for religion, so I’m asking you this: why using a word as “devil” to name a species, a living creature like the “Mountain Devil flower” or the “Tasmanian devil”? Wouldn’t it be better -for instance- to use their native names?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Nautilus, it is true I have a living faith in the Creator of the Universe, which has been a rich blessing to my life, as for religion it is empty and legalistic. The Mountain Devil is the common name of the flower which everyone here knows it as. You may have noticed in my writings that I seldom use Latin taxonomy for naming the birds and other species, as the whole intention of my blog and website, as with my book is to introduce ordinary people into delight of birding, and Australian birds. For this reason I use common names unless I am distinguishing sub species or races of a species. If you are referring to the names given by the original inhabitants of our land, yes that is a valid point as many of our place names and some bird and animal species are from the original native inhabitants.Recently, as our original inhabitants gain more recognition, as they should, we have seen name changes, for example Ayer’s Rock is now known as Uluru, as it was never his rock and it had been known for hundreds of years before, as was Kata Tjuta. Enjoy your weekend 🙂

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  6. Interesting to read about your country having the best flower nectars and the birds that rely on them, they for sure know a good thing! So many fabulous captures, Ashley! I loved the videos too, especially the Rainbow Lorikeet. 🙂 I hope there is continued success with the re-entry of the Regent Honeyeater from the zoo’s breeding and release program. Enjoy the rest of your week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Donna, yes it has been the largest social conservation project in Australia’s history, as so many people give up their time to plant Ironbark trees in an effort to save this bird, but they fear it may be too late as it takes many years before these slow growing trees mature enough to flower. The other problem is that birds raised in captivity do not learn the calls of the wild bird, which is important learnt behaviour which means that when they are released they can not communicate or recognize the call of other birds of their species from previous releases or in the wild, thus affecting their capacity to breed in the wild. Have a wonderful weekend my friend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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