Honey Eaters

Honey Eaters

Honey Eaters

Honey Eaters all have a long protrusible tongue with a brush-like tip which they use to extract nectar from flowers. They are important pollinators of Australian flowers and many have co-evolved with certain species of plants. Otherwise, they are extremely variable in size and habits. They are one of the dominant passerine families in Australasia and represent a very successful adaptation to a wide variety of food types. Almost all feed on nectar and many on insects and fruit, some predominantly so. Honeyeaters are often the most numerous species present in an area and there may bemire than 1.0 different honeyeater species in ilea (2.5 acres).

None are truly terrestrial or found in an arid country, unlike their close relatives the Australian chats, and only the Singing honeyeater occurs in open country and coastal dunes. In general, they are longish, streamlined birds with long, pointed wings and undulating flight. Bold and vigorous, they have strong legs and sharp claws which enable them to clamber agilely around flowers and foliage as they feed, sometimes upside-down. Nearly all have rather long, down-curved, and sharply-pointed bills, with many variations on this shape associated with differences in the diet.

Most honeyeaters are drabbet a few are brightly colored, resembling their counterparts, the sunbirds of Africa and Asia and hummingbirds of America. There were once at least five honeyeaters in Hawaii but the kiore and one moho-became extinct about 1840 and two other mohos were last seen earlier this century. Only the ova still lives in the forests of Hawaii, feeding on insects and some nectar. Bellbirds and the starling-like tub are found throughout New Zealand, especially in or near forests, but the stitch bird disappeared from mainland New Zealand around 1885 and is now confined to one offshore island.

The sugarbirds of South Africa resemble large honeyeaters but opinion is divided as to whether they are members of the family Meliphagidae or merely convergent in appearance and habits. Recent evidence suggests that they are not true honeyeaters. Honeyeater diversification has been so great that 14 of the 38 genera in this family contain only a single species, and ion genera are only two species each.

The largest group. The “typical” honeyeaters (Meliphaga), contain 36 of the 169 honeyeater species. Olive in color and very similar in appearance, their relationships are complex. Most are smallish, foliage-gleaning insectivores with relatively short, straight bills. No honeyeater is truly solitary and some are very gregarious. Cooperative breeding occurs in the White-napped honeyeater and is widespread in the miners.

Species such as the Noisy miner live in dense colonies—up to 20 birds per hectare (4 per acre) broken into territorial, family groups that forage together and unite to mob predators another bird. Only the female incubates and meanwhile the males in a group may help feed the nestlings of neighboring groups. Over 20 different males may help a female with the nest and feed nestlings during the season and the feeding rate may exceed 50 visits an hour. Even the fledglings from one brood may feed their siblings in the next.

The groups have a clear-cut hierarchy and sometimes indulge in elaborate communal displays called “corroborees.” Only the two Rarnsayornis honeyeaters build nests with domes; all others have cup-shaped nests. In most species, the female incubates alone but in some, both sexes incubate; both parents feed the young. Most honeyeaters breed in the spring but some also breed in the fall or have protracted breeding seasons. They have a typical pass-ermine molt after the spring breeding attempt.

Most honeyeaters are much generalized feeders, with few anatomical specializations for extracting nectar from particular types of flowers. They differ greatly in their dependence upon nectar and insects, although all take insects for the essential nutrients not present in nectar and some are almost entirely insectivorous. The widespread Singing honeyeater balances its diet between nectar, insects, and fruit, while the Painted honeyeater is almost entirely fruit-eating—it is nomadic in its search for istle-toe berries. Ecologists often divide honeyeaters into long-billed and short-billed forms. The small to medium-sized honeyeaters with rather short, straight bills (egg Melithreptus, Meliphaga, and Manorina species) are more insectivorous in their habits and tend to segregate by habitat.

The long-billed honeyeaters eat more neck-tar than insects, and the small red honey-eaters and spine bills use their long, curved bills to feed from tubular flowers. This group also includes the medium-sized yellow-winged honeyeaters, which are generalized nectar-eaters visiting a wide range of flowers, and the wattlebirds which tend to prefer eucalyptus and banksias flowers. How can several species of long-billed honeyeaters live in the same area when they are competing for a limited nectar supply: The answer seems to lie in a balance between small, efficient honeyeaters and large, aggressive ones.

The larger species, such as wattlebirds, aggressively exclude other honeyeaters from dense clumps of flowers where nectar levels are highest, but cannot defend all the flowers over a wider area. This allows the smaller honeyeaters, which can still feed profitably on the poorer nectar sources, to co-exist with larger spas- ices. Thus a hierarchy of aggression based on size maintains a diversity of birds even where nectar abundance varies greatly. If nectar is scarce some honeyeaters probably switch to a more insectivorous diet but most move to areas richer in nectar. In the tropical rain forests of New Guinea and northeastern Australia, most honeyeaters are sedentary but in the more arid areas, they are markedly nomadic.

Even in themediterra.  mean and temperate coastal areas many honeyeaters show extensive move-mints. In southeastern Australia, the Yellow-faced honeyeater and the White-napped honeyeater regularly migrate north-ward each fall and return in spring, although some birds remain in the south during winter and elsewhere movements are purely local. The Australian chats are colorful birds whose brush-tipped tongues and egg color -action suggests they may be related to honey-eaters.

Males are red, yellow, or black and white, but females are duller in four of the five species. Chats live in open country, usually in groups, taking insects on the ground. They nest in low bushes, often in loose colonies. Most are well-adapted to dry, even desert, conditions. Crimson chats and Orange chats occur throughout the semi-arid saltbush. Sam- hire and savanna of the inland plains. Highly gregarious, they sometimes form large flocks. Both species, but especially Crimson chats, are very nomadic and occasionally erupt coastward in adverse seasons. Both sexes build the cup-shaped nest, incubate the eggs, and feed the young.

They are Yellow chat is known only from swamps near the north and northeast coasts and from reeds around water in the interior. White-fronted chats are fairly common throughout southern Australia in samphire, saltbush, and the edges of swamps. Most birds breed in the south of their range.

Tasmanian birds and some mainland populations are sedentary but others move northwards when not breeding. In the more robust Gibber chat the sexes are similar in color. Their name comes from the stony Gibber plains around Lake Eyre in central Australia where they live. Some birds are sedentary but others make local movements.

See more: Buntings and Tanagers

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