Monday, 7 April 2008

#48 Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters breeding

After a short break from posting nature blogs, I'm keen to start sharing my nature observations once again. As I haven't been able to get out into the bush much lately, I've had to be content to enjoy nature happenings in my backyard. This family of Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters was nesting in a friend's garden, so it was a great opportunity to observe these cheery birds at length.

The black-tipped pink bill is an identifying feature
of the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater

Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters (Acanthagenys rufogularis) do not appear to be common in rural Hunter Valley, preferring the drier, more vegetated country. The nesting I am featureing here was located at Sandy Hollow on the western rim of the Hunter Valley where the landscape mainly consists of rocky sandstone outcrops with cypress and eucalypt scrub, and scattered farms and vineyards.

This couple was raising their family of two in the lower branches of a mature introduced conifer.

We've also encountered Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters in the sandy semi-arid scrubland of the Pilliga Forests of Northwest New South Wales, as well as residential areas of northwestern NSW towns.

According to my reference books, the Spiny-cheek is found in all Australian states except Tasmania, but avoiding the tropical north, the far south-western corner of Western Australia, and the far south of the east coast.

A parent stuffs a grasshopper
into the gaping mouth of one of the two hatchlings . . . . .

Notice in the picture above how the flimsy grass cup nest is secured to twigs by spiders' web. The main breeding period is between July and January, with a clutch of 2 or 3. Although it is the female who incubates the eggs, both male and female feed the chicks. We watched both parents presenting the youngsters with insects.

I commented earlier on the "cheeriness" of these birds. Although they are noted for their agressive nature and noisy song, I find their musical notes cheery, and their character bubbly.

. . . . . and then the chick presents its rearend
for disposal of a faeces sac . . . . .

. . . . . and then warms the chicks

The Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater is grouped with the wattlebirds, but its wattle is confined to fleshy extention of the gape. Adults have a patch of whitish stiff feathers behind the gape; in juveniles these are yellow.

This attractive bird with its cinnamon-buff bib, blue eye and black-tipped pink beak is easily recognised in the bush, and can often be flushed from roadside vegetation. It is also likely to be heard before it is seen, once its song is recognised.

Nesting season can extend well into autumn if late summer rain has been substantial - this nest was photographed by my husband, Grahame, in March of this year following an unusually mild and wet summer in the Hunter Valley. Keep an eye and ear out for these vocal birds of the dry inland; they are delightful.


Anonymous said...

Delightful they are indeed, with their loud distinctive call, immediately recognisable from a distance. This is an interesting post describing the breeding habits of these honeyeaters, with excellent accompanying photographs. If only we had them in the south-west of WA. Well done Gaye and Grahame.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

Thank you Lola, I will pass on your comments to Grahame. I am becoming a little more capable of identifying birds by their calls, but it is certainly tricky with some. With the few sightings I have had of the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters, this one is becoming distinctive.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gaye. Great photos by Grahame. Nice posting by yourself.

I saw these birds most recently at Broken Hill, but I remember them from childhood as far south as Bendigo, Victoria - in the Mallee country there. I did not know they came into the Hunter.



Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Denis,

I have not seen them in the Hunter often, and certainly never in the extensively cleared rural area where I live. entertaining and lively bird to watch.


Mosura said...

Wow - what an excellent opportunity to watch them close up. Love the photos.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Mosura,

I'm glad you enjoyed these delightful birds, and thank you for leaving a comment.

I will be keen to follow your Tasmanian Nature Blog - what a wonderful part of the country to be living and enjoying nature!


Mosura said...

Oh - and I should have mentioned that you may remember me as sleepylizard.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hey, sleepylizard, thanks. I'm pleased to know.

Oh, and your photography is superb.