October 26

The Helmeted Honeyeater with Ainsley Power-Walters

Listen to the podcast here.


Helmeted Honeyeater

Lichenostomus melanops cassidix

The Helmeted Honeyeater is a sub-species of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater, restricted to just a few localities to the east of Melbourne.

It is Victoria's State bird emblem, and is the only bird endemic to the State.

As of November 6, 2014 The helmeted honeyeater is listed as critically endangered on the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria it is listed as critically endangered.

Here's a little introduction, prepared by Ainsley to introduce her research project on Helmeted Honeyeaters, which is in progress.

There’s a graph listed on the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater website (Helmeted Honeyeaters - Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater Inc), of the population levels of Helmeted Honeyeaters over time.

You can see that in 2013 it increased quite quickly from 60 individuals in 2013 to 190 individuals in 2016. One of the key factors attributing to the population increase was an expansion of the supplementary feeding program in 2012.

In 2001 the Recovery Team established a new reintroduction site away from Yellingbo at Bunyip State Park. There was some success here and the birds were supported by supplementary food. In the graph you can see it was the same time as the Millennium drought, and the population eventually declined. AInsley was told that supplementary food was reduced by about 25% at the Bunyip site (2012?) which may have led to the decline. It appeared that the habitat there wasn’t resilient enough to support the birds after the drought and they would still likely have been dependent on the food.

In 2021 a new reintroduction site was established in Yarra Ranges NP, the first release away from Yellingbo in about 10 years. This release was unique in that it was the first time both captive and wild birds were released in the same release and at the same site. Supplementary food is used in this release primarily for two reasons. Firstly, it can help support the captive raised birds in their transition into the wild. And secondly it can encourage wild translocated birds to stay and establish at the site.

So, Ainsley has been interested to understand how different individuals in the release group use supplementary feed stations, and is looking at their frequency of visits to feed stations and are also interested in their behavioural interactions at the feed stations, as the outcome of these interactions may also affect how some individuals access food. Eg, more dominant birds may monopolise feeders, allowing only some birds to access food but not others. The team will be looking at what factors may influence visitation patterns and interaction outcomes. ie, bird origin (captive or wild), as well as the sex of the bird. eg. Do captive birds spend more time at feed stations than wild birds? Do wild birds win more interactions than captive birds?

The behavioural interactions themselves are quite fascinating. Some very territorial behaviours but also some really lovely ones.

The team used Go Pro cameras to capture the footage across all the feed stations at the site, putting the cameras out for about an hour and a half (basically the life of the battery) a few times a week from August to December 2021.

The team hopes that by painting a picture of how different individuals use feed stations, it can help inform future management of this species.

The Helmeted Honeyeater by Ainsley Power-Walters follow on Instagram for more of Ainsley's art @ainspower

One of the feed stations at the release and monitoring site.

You can watch the conversation here.

Ainsley Power-Walters

Artist and Ecologist

Artist and Master of Science student

University of Melbourne


Australia, Captive Breeding, fieldwork, Helmeted Honeyeater, release, research, translocation

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