Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Helmeted Honey Eater

The Helmeted Honeyeater is endemic to Victoria, and is also the only bird species to be endemic to the state. For this reason, the Helmeted Honeyeater became Victoria's bird emblem in 1971.
The Helmeted Honeyeater is approximately 20 cms in length (tail to tip). They range in colour from black to olive-brown to yellow. They have a yellow crest which sets them apart from other honeyeaters.
Currently (2006) the Helmeted Honeyeater is listed as critically endangered. There were only 50 of this species left in 1990. The numbers are steadily increasing, but the species is still critically endangered.
The honeyeater is currently found in a captive release colony in the Bunyip State Park Reintroduction Site. They also inhabit a very small range between Ferntree Gully and Yellingbo in the wild.
The diet of the Helmeted Honeyeater consists of mainly manna. Manna is a sap-like substance produced by trees through the bark and at points of injury. They also feed on nectar from eucalypt flowers, berries from the prickly currant bush, insects, spiders and lerps.
Breeding occurs from August to February. The gestation period is two weeks where 2 to 3 young are born.

Breeding and moult were sequential unimodal annual events, whose timing was highly consistent between years. However, overlap of breeding and moult was frequent, and some individuals even commenced primary moult before laying their final clutch. The timing of the post-juvenile moult was coincident with that of adults. Early-hatched young moulted within a few months of hatching, but late-hatched young deferred moult for a year. Helmeted Honeyeaters were heaviest in autumn and early winter, and lightest in spring and early summer, a cycle most consistent with the redirection of all available resources to reproduction. The long breeding season (seven-and-a-half months) of the Helmeted Honeyeater, extensive overlap of breeding and moult, and other life-history attributes including small clutch size, are more consistent with the described bio-rhythmic patterns for birds in the humid tropics than the temperate zone. However, the Helmeted Honeyeater has a fairly rapid primary moult rate, unusual amongst species that overlap moult and breeding. This combination of attributes reflects the stable, somewhat seasonal environment occupied and the resource monopoly established by this tightly territorial subspecies. We speculate that extension of the breeding season, by overlapping breeding and moult, is one of the few options available to vary life-history strategies amongst 'old-endemic' Australian birds of the temperate zone.

Click here
to find out more about Victoria's Bird Emblem.

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