Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
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Although a few species of this rich group have dispersed north and east into the islands of the Pacific, the vast majority live in Australo-Papua itself, and none have crossed Wallace’s line into Asia. They earn their names because they eat pollen and nectar, harvested from flowers with their brush-tipped tongues, thus playing an integral role in the pollination biology of native plants. Many of the Australian species have evolved complicated and poorly understood movement patterns, tracking the blooming of specific flowering plants over the vast expanses of that island continent. Most have bills that are at least slightly decurved, with ornamentation of brilliantly colored skin or feather tufts very common on the head and upper breast.
- Plumage variable; some species mostly in dull earth tones, others with black plumage contrasting with patches of bright color
- Wings long, pointed; tail short to medium-long
- Body small to medium, cylindrical ovoid
- Bill medium to medium-long, slender, de curved
- Head medium-sized, often with wattles, casques, or unfeathered patches; neck medium length, thick
- Legs and feet medium length, but generally stout
- Males more brightly colored in some species
Meliphagids live in a wide variety of habitats where flowering plants are present, from arid scrubland and woodlands in the Australian interior to the tropical rainforests of coastal Australia and New Guinea.
Diet and Foraging
Although honeyeaters have specializations of the tongue and bill for feeding on nectar, most have a very varied diet that also includes in sects, other arthropods, and fruit, along with the honeydew secretions of insects (see Pardaloti dae). Many species are at least partially nomadic and will travel some distance to find sources of nectar. Many species are also extremely territo rial and will vigorously defend reliable sources of pollen and nectar from other birds.
Meliphagids are, with few exceptions, monogamous with biparental care, and some Manorina and Melithreptus species breed co operatively. Some species aggregate to nest in colonies or, especially in Manorina, an expand ed collection of territories with complicated and extensive interactions among other nest ing pairs in the group. Nests are cup-shaped, and are either hung by the rim from branches in trees or placed in the fork of a branch. Meliphagids lay 1 to 4 eggs, with smaller average clutch sizes in tropical species. In most species, it appears that only the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs, but the male (and helpers, if present) helps in feeding chicks. Incubation takes 12 to 17 days, and nestling periods range from 11 to more than 20 days. The young seem generally to receive care after fledging, and in the few studies available, it appears that they become independent of parental care four to six weeks after fledging.
While most species of meliphagid face no immediate conservation concerns, 14 species (8%) are at risk (5 NT, 5 VU, 3 EN, 1 CR). One particularly rare meliphagid is the critically endangered Crow Honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana. Found only in New Caledonia, this species is rapidly declining, perhaps because of predation by introduced rats. Most of the en dangered and vulnerable species are narrowly endemic forms, making them especially vulner able to habitat changes. Two species, however, have broad Australian ranges: the endangered Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia and the vulnerable Painted Honeyeater Grantiella picta have probably both suffered from the clearing of large tracts of Eucalyptus forest and from for estry practices that do not allow the growth of old, large, flowering trees.
The honeyeaters are the name sake of the meliphagoid clade, which roots deeply within Passeri (Barker et al. 2004, Driskell & Christidis 2004, Driskell et al. 2007, Norman et al. 2009, Gardner et al. 2010, Jønsson et al. 2011, Barker 2014, Joseph et al. 2014). Within this clade, Meliphagidae is most likely sister to a group formed by Pardalotidae and Acanthizidae (Gardner et al. 2010, Oliveros et al. 2019). Molecular phylogenetic studies have recently shown that the Australian chats (Epthianura)—a group of very brightly colored birds found in the arid lands of Australia that was often placed in its own family, Epthianuridae—fall within this family (Barker et al. 2004, Driskell & Christidis 2004, Driskell et al. 2007, Joseph et al. 2014). In contrast, molecular phylogenetic analyses have shown that the five recently extinct Hawaiian species of the genus Moho and Chaetoptila, long thought to be meliphagids, are only very distantly related. Instead, these Hawaiian endemic birds represented a case of convergent evolution to a honeyeater-like morphology, with these five species instead being the sole representatives of a distinct Mohoidae that was probably most closely related to Bombycillidae and Ptilogonatidae, among others (Fleischer et al. 2008, Oliveros et al. 2019).
|Extinct in the Wild||
Data provided by IUCN Red List. More information