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,.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” – ―
“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
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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.