The honeyeaters are a large and diverse family, Meliphagidae, of small to medium-sized birds. The family includes the Australian chats, myzomelas, friarbirds, wattlebirds, miners and melidectes. They are most common in Australia and New Guinea, but also found in New Zealand, the Pacific islands as far east as Samoa and Tonga, and the islands to the north and west of New Guinea known as Wallacea. Bali, on the other side of the Wallace Line, has a single species.[2][3]

In total there are 187 species in 50 genera, roughly half of them native to Australia, many of the remainder occupying New Guinea.[4] With their closest relatives, the Maluridae (Australian fairy-wrens), Pardalotidae (pardalotes), and Acanthizidae (thornbills, Australian warblers, scrubwrens, etc.), they comprise the superfamily Meliphagoidea and originated early in the evolutionary history of the oscine passerine radiation.[5] Although honeyeaters look and behave very much like other nectar-feeding passerines around the world (such as the sunbirds and flowerpeckers), they are unrelated, and the similarities are the consequence of convergent evolution.

The extent of the evolutionary partnership between honeyeaters and Australasian flowering plants is unknown, but probably substantial. A great many Australian plants are fertilised by honeyeaters, particularly the Proteaceae, Myrtaceae, and Epacridaceae. It is known that the honeyeaters are important in New Zealand as well, and assumed that the same applies in other areas.

Crescent Honeyeater Edit2
Female crescent honeyeater (Phylidonyris pyrrhopterus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Meliphagoidea
Family: Meliphagidae
Vigors, 1825

See text


Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris female
A female eastern spinebill feeding. Honeyeaters typically hang from branches while feeding on nectar.

Honeyeaters can be either nectarivorous, insectivorous, frugivorous, or a combination of nectar- and insect-eating.[6] Unlike the hummingbirds of America, honeyeaters do not have extensive adaptations for hovering flight, though smaller members of the family do hover hummingbird-style to collect nectar from time to time. In general, honeyeaters prefer to flit quickly from perch to perch in the outer foliage, stretching up or sideways or hanging upside down at need. Many genera have a highly developed brush-tipped tongue, frayed and fringed with bristles which soak up liquids readily. The tongue is flicked rapidly and repeatedly into a flower, the upper mandible then compressing any liquid out when the bill is closed.

In addition to nectar, all or nearly all honeyeaters take insects and other small creatures, usually by hawking, sometimes by gleaning. A few of the larger species, notably the white-eared honeyeater, and the strong-billed honeyeater of Tasmania, probe under bark for insects and other morsels. Many species supplement their diets with a little fruit, and a small number eat considerable amounts of fruit,[7] particularly in tropical rainforests and, oddly, in semi-arid scrubland. The painted honeyeater is a mistletoe specialist. Most, however, exist on a diet of nectar supplemented by varying quantities of insects. In general, the honeyeaters with long, fine bills are more nectarivorous, the shorter-billed species less so, but even specialised nectar eaters like the spinebills take extra insects to add protein to their diet when breeding.

The movements of honeyeaters are poorly understood. Most are at least partially mobile but many movements seem to be local, possibly between favourite haunts as the conditions change. Fluctuations in local abundance are common, but the small number of definitely migratory honeyeater species aside, the reasons are yet to be discovered. Many follow the flowering of favourite food plants. Arid zone species appear to travel further and less predictably than those of the more fertile areas. It seems probable that no single explanation will emerge: the general rule for honeyeater movements is that there is no general rule.

Taxonomy and systematics

The genera Cleptornis (golden honeyeater) and Apalopteron (Bonin honeyeater), formerly treated in the Meliphagidae, have recently been transferred to the Zosteropidae on genetic evidence. The genus Notiomystis (New Zealand stitchbird), formerly classified in the Meliphagidae, has recently been removed to the newly erected Notiomystidae of which it is the only member.[8] The "Macgregor's bird-of-paradise," historically considered a bird-of-paradise (Paradisaeidae), was recently found to be a honeyeater.[9] It is now known as "MacGregor's honeyeater" and is classified in the Meliphagidae.

The wattled smoky honeyeater (Melipotes carolae), described in 2007, had been discovered in December 2005 in the Foja Mountains of Papua, Indonesia.[10]

In 2008, a study that included molecular phylogenetic analysis of museum specimens in the genera Moho and Chaetoptila, both extinct genera endemic to the Hawaiian islands, argued that these five species were not members of the Meliphagidae and instead belong to their own distinct family, the Mohoidae.[11]


  1. ^ Sibley, C.G. and Monroe, B.L. Jr. (1990). Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-04969-2.
  2. ^ Andersen, M.J.; Naikatini, A.; Moyle, R.C. (2014). "A molecular phylogeny of Pacific honeyeaters (Aves: Meliphagidae) reveals extensive paraphyly and an isolated Polynesian radiation". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 71: 308–315. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.11.014. PMID 24315868.
  3. ^ * Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 12: Picathartes to Tits and Chickadees. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 978-84-96553-42-2
  4. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Honeyeaters". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  5. ^ Barker, F.K.; Cibois, A.; Schikler, P.; Feinstein, J.; Cracraft, J. (2004). "Phylogeny and diversification of the largest avian radiation". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 101: 11040–11045. doi:10.1073/pnas.0401892101. PMC 503738. PMID 15263073.
  6. ^ Driskell, Amy C.; Christidis, Les (2004). "Phylogeny and evolution of the Australo-Papuan honeyeaters (Passeriformes, Meliphagidae)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 31 (3): 943–960. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2003.10.017. PMID 15120392. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-01.
  7. ^ Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 208. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
  8. ^ Driskell, A.C.; Christidis, L.; Gill, B.; Boles, W.E.; Barker, F.K.; Longmore, N.W. (2007). "A new endemic family of New Zealand passerine birds: adding heat to a biodiversity hotspot". Australian Journal of Zoology. 55: 1–6. doi:10.1071/zo07007.
  9. ^ Cracraft, J.; Feinstein, J. (2000). "What is not a bird of paradise? Molecular and morphological evidence places Macgregoria in the Meliphagidae and the Cnemophilinae near the base of the corvoid tree". Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 267: 233–241. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.0992. PMC 1690532.
  10. ^ Beehler, B.; Prawiradilaga, D.; de Fretes, Y.; Kemp, N. (2007). "A new species of smoky honeyeater (Meliphagidae: Melipotes) from western New Guinea". The Auk. 124 (3): 1000–1009. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2007)124[1000:ansosh]2.0.co;2.
  11. ^ Fleischer, R. C.; James, H. F.; Olson, S. L. (2008). "Convergent Evolution of Hawaiian and Australo-Pacific Honeyeaters from Distant Songbird Ancestors". Current Biology. 18 (24): 1927–1931. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.10.051. PMID 19084408.

Further reading

External links

Banded honeyeater

The banded honeyeater (Cissomela pectoralis) is a species of bird in the family Meliphagidae.

It is endemic to northern Australia.

Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical mangrove forests, and Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation.

The banded honeyeater was previously placed in the genus Certhionyx but was moved to the monotypic genus Cissomela after a molecular phylogenetic analysis published in 2011 showed that the original genus was polyphyletic.

Black-headed honeyeater

The black-headed honeyeater (Melithreptus affinis) is a species of bird in the family Meliphagidae.

It is one of two members of the genus Melithreptus endemic to Tasmania. Its natural habitats are temperate forests and Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation. Despite its name, the black-headed honeyeater eats predominantly insects.

Black honeyeater

The black honeyeater (Sugomel niger) is a species of bird in the honeyeater family Meliphagidae, and the sole species in the genus Sugomel. The black honeyeater exhibits sexual dimorphism, with the male being black and white while the female is a speckled grey-brown; immature birds look like the female. The species is endemic to Australia, and ranges widely across the arid areas of the continent, through open woodland and shrubland, particularly in areas where the emu bush and related species occur.

A nectar feeder, the black honeyeater has a long curved bill to reach the base of tubular flowers such as those of the emu bush. It also takes insects in the air, and regularly eats ash left behind at campfires. Cup-shaped nests are built in the forks of small trees or shrubs. The male engages in a soaring song flight in the mating season, but contributes little to nest building or incubating the clutch of two to three eggs. Both sexes feed and care for the young. While the population appears to be decreasing, the black honeyeater is sufficiently numerous and widespread to be considered least concern on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Endangered species.

Blue-faced honeyeater

The blue-faced honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis), also colloquially known as the bananabird, is a passerine bird of the honeyeater family, Meliphagidae.

It is the only member of its genus, and it is most closely related to honeyeaters of the genus Melithreptus. Three subspecies are recognised. At around 29.5 cm (11.6 in) in length, the blue-faced species is large for a honeyeater. Its plumage is distinctive, with olive upperparts, white underparts, and a black head and throat with white nape and cheeks. Males and females are similar in external appearance. Adults have a blue area of bare skin on each side of the face readily distinguishing them from juveniles, which have yellow or green patches of bare skin.

Found in open woodland, parks and gardens, the blue-faced honeyeater is common in northern and eastern Australia and southern New Guinea. It appears to be sedentary in parts of its range and locally nomadic in other parts; however, the species has been little studied. Its diet is mostly composed of invertebrates, supplemented with nectar and fruit. They often take over and renovate old babbler nests, in which the female lays and incubates two or rarely three eggs.

Bonin white-eye

The Bonin white-eye (Apalopteron familiare) or meguro (メグロ) is a small songbird endemic to the Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Islands) of Japan. It is the only species in the genus Apalopteron. Its taxonomic affinities were a long-standing mystery and it has been placed with the bulbuls, babblers and more recently with the honeyeaters, during which it was known as the Bonin honeyeater. Since 1995 it is known to be a white-eye in the family Zosteropidae, that is closely related to the golden white-eye of the Marianas Islands.

The Bonin white-eye has predominately yellow and green plumage and a conspicuous black triangular patch around the eye – the eye is also surrounded by a broken white ring. It was once found on all the major islands of the Bonin Islands but is now restricted to the islands of Hahajima. On that island group it is found in almost all the habitat types, native and human-modified, although it mostly breeds in native forest. Fruit is an important part of the diet, especially mulberries, as well as insects, but flowers, seeds, spiders and reptiles are taken as well. It feeds both in trees and on the ground, as it is more terrestrial that other white-eyes. Pairs of Bonin white-eyes form long-term pair bonds and remain together throughout the year. They nest in a cup-shaped nest into which usually two eggs are laid. Both parents are responsible for incubation and raising the chicks.

The arrival of humans in the Bonin Islands resulted in the extinction of many of the native birds of the islands. The Bonin white-eye was affected by the changes that caused those extinctions, and has lost one subspecies and is no longer found on many of the islands groups of the Bonin Islands. The species is an important part of the ecology of the Bonin Islands, an important seed disperser for the native plants. It has proven to be somewhat resilient to competition from introduced warbling white-eyes, predation by introduced rats and cats, and habitat loss. The Bonin white-eye is evaluated as being "near threatened" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Brown honeyeater

The brown honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) belongs to the honeyeaters, a group of birds found mainly in Australia and New Guinea which have highly developed brush-tipped tongues adapted for nectar feeding. It is a medium-small brownish bird, with yellow-olive panels in the tail and wing and a yellow tuft behind the eye.

Widespread across western, northern and eastern Australia, the brown honeyeater occupies a range of habitats from mangroves to eucalypt woodlands. It is seasonally nomadic within its local area, following flowering food plants. While it usually forages alone, it also feeds in small groups, or flocks of mixed honeyeater species. Nectar and insects form its diet. It occupies the same breeding territory each year, and lays two or three eggs in a cup-shaped nest woven from grass and soft bark. Both sexes contribute to nest building and feeding the young. It has a loud, clear, musical song, described as the best of all the honeyeaters.

While the brown honeyeater is declining in some areas such as the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, overall its population levels and distribution are sufficient to have it described by the IUCN as being of least concern for conservation.

Bundarra-Barraba Important Bird Area

The Bundarra-Barraba Important Bird Area lies in the Northern Tablelands of north-eastern New South Wales, Australia. It is important for the conservation of the endangered regent honeyeater and is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.

Crescent honeyeater

The crescent honeyeater (Phylidonyris pyrrhopterus) is a passerine bird of the honeyeater family, Meliphagidae, native to southeastern Australia. A member of the genus Phylidonyris, it is most closely related to the common New Holland honeyeater (P. novaehollandiae) and the white-cheeked honeyeater (P. niger). Two subspecies are recognized, with P. p. halmaturinus restricted in range to Kangaroo Island and the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia.

It has dark grey plumage and paler underparts, highlighted by yellow wing patches and a broad, black crescent, outlined in white, down the sides of its breast. The species exhibits slight sexual dimorphism, with the female being duller in colour than the male. Juvenile birds are similar to the female, though the yellow wing patches of male nestlings can be easily distinguished.

The male has a complex and variable song, which is heard throughout the year. It sings from an exposed perch, and during the breeding season performs song flights. The crescent honeyeater is found in areas of dense vegetation including sclerophyll forest and alpine habitats, as well as heathland, and parks and gardens, where its diet is made up of nectar and invertebrates. It forms long-term pairs, and often stays committed to one breeding site for several years. The female builds the nest and does most of the caring for the two to three young, which become independent within 40 days of laying its egg.

The parent birds use a range of anti-predator strategies, but nestlings can be taken by snakes, kookaburras, currawongs, or cats. While the crescent honeyeater faces a number of threats, its population numbers and distribution are sufficient for it to be listed as of Least Concern for conservation.

Lewin's honeyeater

The Lewin's honeyeater (Meliphaga lewinii) is a bird that inhabits the ranges along the east coast of Australia. It has a semicircular ear patch, pale yellow in colour.

The name of this bird commemorates the Australian artist John Lewin.

MacGregor's honeyeater

The MacGregor's honeyeater (Macgregoria pulchra) also known as Macgregor's giant honeyeater, Macgregor's bird of paradise, and ochre-winged honeyeater, is a large (up to 40 cm long) black crow-like bird with a large orange-yellow eye-wattles and black-tipped ochre primary wing feathers. The sexes are similar, with the male is slightly larger than female. It is the only member of the genus Macgregoria.

A monogamous species, it inhabits subalpine forests of New Guinea. The diet consists mainly of fruits. This puzzling and little-known species has traditionally been considered a bird-of-paradise, but is actually a honeyeater. Recent genetic evidence on the MacGregor's honeyeater confirms that it belongs to the Meliphagidae family. It is similar and closely related to the smoky honeyeater.

The name commemorates its discoverer, the administrator of British New Guinea Sir William MacGregor.

Due to small and declining population, the MacGregor's honeyeater is evaluated as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.

New Holland honeyeater

The New Holland honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) is a honeyeater species found throughout southern Australia. It was among the first birds to be scientifically described in Australia, and was initially named Certhia novaehollandiae.

Painted honeyeater

The painted honeyeater (Grantiella picta) is a species of honeyeater in a monotypic genus.

Regent honeyeater

The regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) is a critically endangered bird endemic to South Eastern Australia. It is commonly considered a flagship species within its range, with the efforts going into its conservation having positive effects on many other species that share its habitat. Recent genetic research suggests it is closely related to the wattlebirds.

Seram friarbird

The Seram friarbird (Philemon subcorniculatus), also known as the grey-necked friarbird, Ceram friarbird, grey-necked honeyeater and gray-necked honeyeater, is a species of bird in the family Meliphagidae. It is endemic to Indonesia where it occurs on Seram Island in the Maluku Islands. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests. They are common and conspicuous and often in small groups of up to four individuals.

The Seram friarbird is the largest of its family, and is approximately 78% heavier than the grey-collared oriole, which is an almost perfect mimic of it.

Seram honeyeater

The Seram honeyeater (Lichmera monticola) is a species of bird in the family Meliphagidae.

It is endemic to Indonesia, where it occurs on Seram in the southern Maluku Islands. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Striped honeyeater

The striped honeyeater (Plectorhyncha lanceolata) is a passerine bird of the honeyeater family, Meliphagidae, found in Australia. It is a medium-sized honeyeater, about 23 centimetres (9.1 in) in length. Both sexes are a light greyish brown with dark brown centres to the feathers, which give the appearance of stripes. The stripes are particularly distinct on the head and back of the neck. While it is found mainly in inland eastern Australia where it inhabits the drier open forests, it is also found in coastal swamp forests from south east Queensland to the central coast of New South Wales.

Although a honeyeater, the striped honeyeater relies on insects as its major food source, and its bill has been adapted to an insect diet. When not breeding it has been recorded feeding and travelling in small groups, but it nests singly, laying around three eggs in a deep cup-shaped nest suspended from the end of drooping branches. It is widely distributed and common within its range, thus the population is listed as being of least concern for conservation by the IUCN.

White-cheeked honeyeater

The white-cheeked honeyeater (Phylidonyris niger) inhabits the east coast and the south-west corner of Australia. It has a large white patch on its cheek, a brown eye, and a yellow panel on its wing.

Yellow-faced honeyeater

The yellow-faced honeyeater (Caligavis chrysops) is a medium-small bird in the honeyeater family, Meliphagidae. It takes both its common name and scientific name from the distinctive yellow stripes on the sides of its head. Its loud clear call often begins twenty or thirty minutes before dawn. It is widespread across eastern and south eastern Australia, in open sclerophyll forests from coastal dunes to high-altitude subalpine areas, and woodlands along creeks and rivers. Comparatively short-billed for a honeyeater, it is thought to have adapted to a diet of flies, spiders, and beetles, as well as nectar and pollen from the flowers of plants such as Banksia and Grevillea, and soft fruits. It catches insects in flight as well as gleaning them from the foliage of trees and shrubs.

While some yellow-faced honeyeaters are sedentary, hundreds of thousands migrate northwards between March and May to spend the winter in southern Queensland and return in July and August to breed in southern New South Wales and Victoria. They form socially monogamous pairs and lay two or three eggs in a delicate cup-shaped nest. While the success rate can be low, the pairs nest several times during the breeding season.

Honeyeaters' preferred woodland habitat is vulnerable to the effects of land clearing, grazing, and weeds. However, as it is common and widespread, the yellow-faced honeyeater is considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be of least concern for conservation. It is considered a pest in orchards in some areas.

Yellow-spotted honeyeater

The yellow-spotted honeyeater (Meliphaga notata) is a species of bird in the family Meliphagidae. It is also known as the lesser lewin. The bird is endemic to northern Queensland. The bird's common name refers to the yellow patch members of the species have behind their eyes.The yellow-spotted honeyeater is olive, brown, and gray in color. The bird's weight ranges from around 23 to 30 grams, and the wingspan ranges from about 8 to 9 centimeters. The species contains two subspecies, which are known as Meliphaga notata notata and Meliphaga notata mixta. Yellow-spotted honeyeaters are aggressive and have a loud and metallic call.

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