Backyard Buddies
Singing Honeyeater

Photo: Wayne Butterworth

Singing Honeyeater

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From mid year to the end of summer, you may find a Singing Honeyeater searching for a mate in your garden, park or local bushland. They breed from July to February each year, in flimsy open nests built from grasses and often lined with hair or root fibres. Their nests are a target of the Pallid Cuckoo, who like almost all cuckoos, looks for an existing nest to lay their eggs in instead of building their own.

Singing Honeyeaters, Lichenostomus virescens, are one of Australia's most widespread species of honeyeater, preferring open shrub lands and low woodlands, especially where acacias are abundant. It also lives in swamplands, along creeks and drainage channels, in urban parks and gardens and around farms.

Male Singing Honeyeaters have a melodious 'prrip, prrip' call. They call regularly to signal their territory, which usually includes a flowering food source. Listen out for Singing Honeyeaters in the early morning, when they will be one of the very first birds singing.

When Singing Honeyeaters mate, they stay together for a long time. Singing Honeyeaters live in noisy families of five or six birds, though they often feed alone.

While breeding, Singing Honeyeaters may form a mob to aggressively drive away or attack other birds or even larger animals, as they fight to defend their territory.

Watch out for these birds collecting grass, plant stems, delicate bits of spider web, roots, wool and hairs to construct their cup-shaped nest in the leaves of a thorny shrub or in a tree branch fork, usually 2-5 m above the ground. The eggs are different colours and once hatched, both parents feed their chicks.

To attract Singing Honeyeaters to your garden, plant acacias and insect-attracting plants and avoid  pesticides, as these birds will happily eat up small insects, beetles, moths, flies, spiders, caterpillars and grubs. They are omnivores, so they will also sip nectar, and eat fruits and berries. They will also take finch eggs and nestlings given the opportunity.

Singing Honeyeaters are pollinators of several species of plants, particularly grevilleas and hakeas, and unfortunately also help spread Bridal Creeper, a noxious weed.

Avoid planting weeds such as Bridal Creeper or African Boxthorn, as birds like the Singing Honeyeater eat the berries and spread these invasive plants into other areas where they can take over and become a huge problem for other Australian animals and their habitats. Spreading native seeds, however, is a beneficial habit of the Singing Honeyeater.

If you're fond of a coffee on the balcony in the early morning, don't be surprised if a Singing Honeyeater wants to join you. Some Singing Honeyeaters in Victoria have discovered that the dregs of a camper's coffee cup may also contain a sweet drink.

Tip

Provide a bird bath or dish of water for birds like the Singing Honeyeater to drink from and bathe in. Keep the water fresh and clean, and don't let it dry out for long periods of time. Once birds find that your garden is a reliable place for a drink, they will visit often.

Did you know?

The call of the Singing Honeyeater varies according to where it lives. Scientists have found that Singing Honeyeaters from mainland Australia did not respond to the songs of Singing Honeyeaters from an island off Australia's west coast. This study showed that the songs of the birds on the island were smaller, had less song types, syllable types, and fewer syllables and notes per song.

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Photo: OEH