Regent Honeyeaters in the Mistletoe
In the last EcoUpdate, we brought you exciting news about the Regent Honeyeater project in the Tomalpin Woodlands near Cessnock, now the single most important site for this critically endangered bird.
If you missed it, here is the article by Mick Roderick, Woodland Bird Program Manager at BirdLife Australia:
Since then, Mick has sent EcoNetwork further updates about the monitoring program and also several excellent resources on mistletoes. These intriguing plants provide nesting and feeding opportunities for various species, including the Regent Honeyeater.
As a flagship species, conservation of the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) will benefit a variety of other threatened woodland fauna and flora. Dry open woodlands which contain mature trees, particularly Box-Ironbark, and an abundance of mistletoes support a a richness of bird species in large numbers. The riparian forests of River Sheoak are also significant.
Check out the monthly 2022-23 Community Updates from the research team.
Why are mistletoes so important?
Many Australians associate mistletoe with the northern hemisphere species, especially popular around Christmas and New Year! But did you know that 90 of the approximately 1500 species of mistletoe are found in Australia?
Many of us also assume that by attaching and then climbing high up into the canopy, mistletoes aim to kill their host tree. This is not the case – in fact it cannot survive without its host. Although mistletoes are hemi-parasitic, their long flowering and fruiting season provides much-needed food and shelter for birds and possums. Invertebrates are attracted by its succulent leaves which in turn provide food for insectivorous birds and sugar gliders. Even during dry periods, they continue to flower and produce fruit, making them an essential food source all year round.
The Regent Honeyeater feeds predominantly on mistletoe nectar and on gum blossoms while the aptly-named Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) is one of the main seed dispersers, and is also found in the Hunter region.
Sadly, repeated bushfires in recent years wiped out much of the mistletoe in the Tomalpin Woodlands, the Regent Honeyeater’s key breeding area in the Lower Hunter. As mistletoe does not regenerate after fire, a team from BirdLife Australia has been working with the Mindaribba Local Aboriginal Land Council to re-establish it through a seeding program.
Some common mistletoe species of the Hunter region include:
- Long-flowered mistletoe (Dendrophthoe vitellina)
- Needle-leaf mistletoe (Amyema cambagei)
- Box mistletoe (Amyema miquelii)
- Grey mistletoe (Amyema quandang)
Tree species they occupy include Spotted gum (Corymbia maculata) and River sheoak (Casuarina cunninghamiana).
If you think you’ve spotted a Regent Honeyeater, please report it ASAP to email@example.com or call 1800 621 056.
- Mistletoe seed dispersal by David M. Watson, ecologist – Of mistletoe, mechanism and more.
- Exploring the world of mistletoes
- Under the Mistletoe – by Rod Hobson (July 2014) in ‘The mistletoe – as Australian as the gum tree’, a Robert Ashdown blog post updated May 2022.
- Myths about Mistletoe – Hunter Local Land Services
- Watson D.M. (2019) Mistletoes of Southern Australia 2nd Ed. CSIRO Publishing.
- Breaking down myths about Mistletoes – brochure produced by BirdLife Australia and Hunter Local Land Services
- Mistletoes of the Lower and Upper Hunter and their ecology – video
- Regent Honeyeater – National Recovery Plan
- Regent Honeyeater species profile – BirdLife Australia
- Regent Honeyeater Release – BirdLife Australia
In the news:
- Birdlife Australia working with Aboriginal land council to return mistletoe to burnt woodlands – ABC News 23 December 2022
- The kiss of life for healthy forests – The Conversation
- The misunderstood magical mistletoes – ABC