Habitat Ecology Information

What’s Lurking In Your Backyard? – #14 New Holland Honeyeater

This series looks at the variety of fauna that may be found in the suburban backyard or local reserve and the diversity may be surprising to some people. The obvious fauna are the vast array of birds that are readily seen by day and some by night, but there are numerous species that are nocturnal. Some of these nocturnal species people are familiar with as they tramp across the roof at night with what sounds like hobnail boots on, or they hear fighting in the backyard over food and territory. Others are cryptic and may only be seen infrequently when they enter the house for warmth and shelter. Each week I will highlight a different species that may be found in and around Melbourne’s backyards, parks and reserves, some may be familiar others less so.

#14 New Holland Honeyeater
(Phylidonyris novaehollandiae)

This little honeyeater can often be seen flitting amongst the foliage and flowers of trees and shrubs in the backyard, in local parks and gardens or in the bush seeking out the nectar from plants in flower. Their colouration and patterning can often make them hard to see and they are quite active and move quickly through the foliage.

Found along the coast of Australia from Brisbane to Perth and inland to the other side of the ranges, it can be found in a variety of vegetation types from heath, woodlands and forests as well as cultivated parks and gardens. It will frequent gardens with Grevillea’s and Banksia’s, which can provide it with one of its food sources.

This along with the Eastern Spinebill is one of my favorite honeyeaters. This mostly black and white bird has large yellow patches on the wing and sides of the tail. Like a few other honeyeaters it has white facial markings, with this species it is a small white ear patch and another at the base of the bill. The eye is also white.

Although they feed predominantly on energy rich nectar from the flowers of plants, they also feed on fruit and a range of insects. They normally can be found in the company of other New Holland Honeyeaters were they would forage amongst the flowers, often giving the appearance that there are more birds in the bush than there really is due to their activity. Individuals may also be found foraging in shrubs alone although this is not the norm.

The nest of this honeyeater is looks similar to other honeyeater species with nests being a cup shape made of a combination of bark, grass and spider webs, lined with soft material. These are suspended from branches. A pair of New Holland Honeyeaters can raise up to 3 broods per year and both sexes take responsibility for the feeding of young.

It is common for people to place nectar feeders out to encourage honeyeaters into the garden. This can lead to problems with aggressive species taking over the feeder and scaring other birds off as well as health issues associated with incorrect nectar mixes. Planting flowering shrubs especially indigenous or native species is far better than the provision of feeders.

For hints on “Birdscaping Your Garden” follow the links below or get a copy of the book below from the local library. Many local council’s will often have a list of native/indigenous plant suppliers that can assist in suitable plants that can be used to attract birds to the garden. Check council websites or contact the environment department at your local council.

Adams, George. (2011). Birdscaping Australian Gardens: A Guide to Native Plants and the Garden Birds they attract.

Sustainable Gardens Australia: “SGA Bird Gardening”

Birdlife Australia: “Birdlife Australia”

© Habitat Ecology 2012