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Eastern Spinebill, Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
Eastern Spinebill, Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Meliphagidae
Vigors, 1825

The honeyeaters are a large and diverse family of small to medium sized birds most common in Australia and New Guinea, but also found in New Zealand, the Pacific islands as far east as Hawaii, and the islands to the north and west of New Guinea known as Wallacea. Bali, on the other side of the Wallace Line, has a single species.

Honeyeaters and the closely related Australian chats make up the family Meliphagidae. In total there are 182 species in 42 genera, roughly half of them native to Australia, many of the remainder occupying New Guinea. Like their closest relatives, the Maluridae (Australian wrens), Pardalotidae (pardalotes and thornbills), and Petroicidae (Australian robins), they originated as part of the great corvid radiation in Australia-New Guinea (which were joined in a single landmass until quite recent geological times).

Although honeyeaters look and behave very much like other nectar-feeding passerines around the world (such as the sunbirds and flowerpeckers), they are unrelated, and the similarities are the consequence of convergent evolution.

Unlike the hummingbirds of America, honeyeaters do not have extensive adaptations for hovering flight, though smaller members of the family do hover hummingbird-style to collect nectar from time to time. In general, honeyeaters prefer to flit quickly from perch to perch in the outer foliage, stretching up or sideways or hanging upside down at need. All genera have a highly developed brush-tipped tongue, longer in some species than others, frayed and fringed with bristles which soak up liquids readily. The tongue is flicked rapidly and repeatedly into a flower, the upper mandible then compressing any liquid out when the bill is closed.

The extent of the evolutionary partnership between honeyeaters and Australasian flowering plants is unknown, but probably substantial. A great many Australian plants are fertilised by honeyeaters, particularly the Proteacae, Myrtaceae, and Epacridacae. It is known that the honeyeaters are important in New Zealand as well, and assumed that the same applies in other areas.

In addition to nectar, all or nearly all honeyeaters take insects and other small creatures, usually by hawking, sometimes by gleaning. A few of the larger species, notably the White-eared Honeyeater, and the Strong-billed Honeyeater of Tasmania, probe under bark for insects and other morsels. Many species supplement their diets with a little fruit, and a small number eat considerable amounts of fruit, particularly in tropical rainforests and, oddly, in semi-arid scrubland. The Painted Honeyeater is a mistletoe specialist. Most, however, exist on a diet of nectar supplemented by varing quantities of insects. In general, the honeyeaters with long, fine bills are more nectarivous, the shorter-billed species less so, but even specialised nectar eaters like the spinebills take extra insects to add protein to their diet when they are breeding.

The movements of honeyeaters are poorly understood. Most are at least partially mobile but many movements seem to be local, possibly between favourite haunts as the conditions change. Fluctuations in local abundance are common, but the small number of definitely migratory honeyeater species aside, the reasons are yet to be discovered. Many follow the flowering of favourite food plants. Arid zone species appear to travel further and less predictably than those of the more fertile areas. It seems probable that no single explanation will emerge: the general rule for honeyeater movements is that there is no general rule.

The genus Apalopteron (Bonin Honeyeater), formerly treated in the Meliphagidae, has recently been transferred to the Zosteropidae on genetic evidence.

A new species of honeyeater, not yet described but previously called "Smoky Honeyeater", has been discovered in December 2005 in the Foja Mountains of Papua, Indonesia.

Species of Meliphagidae (Part of the Meliphagoidea superfamily)

  • Red Wattlebird, Anthochaera carunculata
    Yellow Wattlebird, Anthochaera paradoxa
    Little Wattlebird, Anthochaera chrysoptera
    Western Wattlebird, Anthochaera lunulata
    Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Acanthagenys rufogularis
    Striped Honeyeater, Plectorhyncha lanceolata
    Helmeted Friarbird, Philemon buceroides
    Silver-crowned Friarbird, Philemon argenticeps
    Noisy Friarbird, Philemon corniculatus
    Little Friarbird, Philemon citreogularis
    Regent Honeyeater, Xanthomyza phrygia
    Blue-faced Honeyeater, Entomyzon cyanotis
    Bell Miner, Manorina melanophrys
    Noisy Miner, Manorina melanocephala
    Yellow-throated Miner, Manorina flavigula
    Black-eared Miner, Manorina melanotis
    Macleay's Honeyeater, Xanthotis macleayana
    Tawny-breasted Honeyeater, Xanthotis flaviventer
    Lewin's Honeyeater, Meliphaga lewinii
    Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Meliphaga notata
    Graceful Honeyeater, Meliphaga gracilis
    White-lined Honeyeater, Meliphaga albilineata
    Bridled Honeyeater, Lichenostomus frenatus
    Eungella Honeyeater, Lichenostomus hindwoodi
    Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Lichenostomus chrysops
    Singing Honeyeater, Lichenostomus virescens
    Varied Honeyeater, Lichenostomus versicolor
    Mangrove Honeyeater, Lichenostomus fasciogularis
    White-gaped Honeyeater, Lichenostomus unicolor
    Yellow Honeyeater, Lichenostomus flavus
    White-eared Honeyeater, Lichenostomus leucotis
    Yellow-throated Honeyeater, Lichenostomus flavicollis
    Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus melanops
    Purple-gaped Honeyeater, Lichenostomus cratitius
    Grey-headed Honeyeater, Lichenostomus keartlandi
    Yellow-plumed Honeyeater, Lichenostomus ornatus
    Grey-fronted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus plumulus
    Fuscous Honeyeater, Lichenostomus fuscus
    Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, Lichenostomus flavescens
    White-plumed Honeyeater, Lichenostomus penicillatus
    Smoky Honeyeater, Melipotes fumigatus [1]
    Black-chinned Honeyeater, Melithreptus gularis
    Strong-billed Honeyeater, Melithreptus validirostris
    Brown-headed Honeyeater, Melithreptus brevirostris
    White-throated Honeyeater, Melithreptus albogularis
    White-naped Honeyeater, Melithreptus lunatus
    Black-headed Honeyeater, Melithreptus affinis
    Stitchbird, Notiomystis cincta
    Green-backed Honeyeater, Glycichaera fallax
    Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta
    White-streaked Honeyeater, Trichodere cockerelli
    Painted Honeyeater, Grantiella picta
    Giant Honeyeater, Gymnomyza viridis
    Mao, Gymnomyza samoensis
    Crow Honeyeater, Gymnomyza aubryana
    Crescent Honeyeater, Phylidonyris pyrrhoptera
    New Holland Honeyeater, Phylidonyris novaehollandiae
    White-cheeked Honeyeater, Phylidonyris nigra
    White-fronted Honeyeater, Phylidonyris albifrons
    Tawny-crowned Honeyeater, Phylidonyris melanops
    Brown-backed Honeyeater, Ramsayornis modestus
    Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Ramsayornis fasciatus
    Rufous-banded Honeyeater, Conopophila albogularis
    Rufous-throated Honeyeater, Conopophila rufogularis
    Grey Honeyeater, Conopophila whitei
    Eastern Spinebill, Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris
    Western Spinebill, Acanthorhynchus superciliosus
    Banded Honeyeater, Certhionyx pectoralis
    Black Honeyeater, Certhionyx niger
    Pied Honeyeater, Certhionyx variegatus
    Dusky Honeyeater, Myzomela obscura
    Red-headed Honeyeater, Myzomela erythrocephala
    Cardinal Honeyeater, Myzomela cardinalis
    Scarlet Honeyeater, Myzomela sanguinolenta
    New Zealand Bellbird, Anthornis melanura
    Tui, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
    Crimson Chat, Epthianura tricolor
    Orange Chat, Epthianura aurifrons
    Yellow Chat, Epthianura crocea
    White-fronted Chat, Epthianura albifrons
    Gibberbird, Ashbyia lovensis

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