As hummingbirds are New World birds, the niche of nectar-sipping birds is filled by fascinating other avian groups. Honeyeaters are part of the large avian family called Meliphagidae and are native to Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand. This family includes 187 species, half found in Australia, including miners and wattlebirds.
Here are a few facts about them:
* Small-medium sized birds.
* They have a ‘brush-tipped’ tongue, with which they take up nectar from flowers.
* However, nectar is only one of their foods. Most honeyeaters also eat insects. Some feed on pollen, berries and sugary sap of plants.
* Some are highly mobile, searching out seasonal nectar sources. Mass-flowering eucalypts are particularly popular with these nomadic honeyeaters. Other species are strongly territorial.
* A great many Aussie plants are pollinated by honeyeaters.
* Only small species of honeyeaters have the hovering capabilities of hummingbirds. Mostly they perch on flowers, stretch, or even hang upside down.
* Some are critically endangered like the Regent honeyeater. Habitat loss, wildfires, and invasive species are principal causes of decline (a familiar story in worldwide biodiversity).
I saw honeyeaters in Queensland at multiple rainforest/wetland sites (with the mossie bites to prove it!). Notably Dunk Island (part of the Great Barrier Reef), Mission Beach, Lake Tinaroo, Cathedral Fig, and Lamington National Park, which is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the most extensive subtropical rainforest in the world.
99.9% of tourists to Dunk Island never got off the beach and had no idea of the rich interior of the island. However, it’s a wild place to explore a few hundred yards beyond the Aussie fast food joints, scuba rentals, hotels, and highways.
In life, wander, get off the beaten path.