A yellow flash no more
The Regent Honeyeater, with its brilliant flashes of yellow embroidery, was once seen overhead in flocks of hundreds. Today the Regent Honeyeater has become a 'flagship species' for conservation in the threatened box-ironbark forests of Victoria and NSW on which it depends.
The Regent Honeyeater feeds mainly on nectar from a small number of eucalypt species, acting as a pollinator for many flowering plants.
Efforts to save the Regent Honeyeater will also help to conserve remnant communities of other threatened or near threatened animals and plants, including the Swift Parrot, Superb Parrot, Brush-tailed Phascogale, Squirrel Glider and Painted Honeyeater.
Originally found within 300km of the coast from Brisbane to Adelaide, the Regent Honeyeater is no longer found in South Australia and records from Queensland are now uncommon. The remaining population in Victoria and NSW is patchy, with little information available on the movement patterns of this highly mobile species.
Regent Honeyeaters occur mainly in dry box ironbark open-forest and woodland areas inland of the Great Dividing Range, particularly favouring those on the wettest, most fertile soils, such as along creek flats and broad river valleys. They spend much of their time feeding on the nectar from eucalypts such as the Mugga Ironbark, White Box and Yellow Box, and Blakeley's Red Gum on which they are reliant. Listed as nationally endangered, the total known population of Regent Honeyeaters is estimated at between 800 and 2000.
Loss of their woodland habitat is the major threat to this species and to other woodland birds. Due to expanding agriculture eighty-five percent of the box-ironbark woodlands, once extensively distributed across inland eastern Australia, have been cleared, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems in the country.
For example, at the time of European occupation roughly one million hectares of box-ironbark forest existed in Victoria. Today only twenty-five per cent of the original coverage remains, mostly on less fertile soils which are marginal habitat for this species. Special dietary and habitat needs, in particular the Regent Honeyeater's nomadic lifestyle and reliance on a small area of favoured habitat within the remnants, has meant that these reductions in habitat are having a huge impact on the species.
The clearance of the most fertile stands, the poor health of many remnants and very slow growth rate of replacement trees as well as the lack of regeneration due to stock grazing are also contributing to the decline in numbers. Firewood collecting, which many people may see as 'tidying up' the forest, actually results in removal of dead trees and fallen timber crucial to the healthy survival of the forest ecosystem, of which the Regent Honeyeater is an integral part.
Through partnerships between government agencies, non-government organisations, community groups and landholders, efforts are being made to protect the Regent Honeyeater's habitat and ensure this species continues to exist in the wild.
Conservation efforts are presently focused on protecting and restoring habitat at all regularly-used sites and on increasing the availability of preferred habitat overall. Promoting awareness of the Regent Honeyeater and its plight is also an important aspect of conservation measures. Many other plants and animals, such as those mentioned above, will benefit from efforts to save this species.
You can help Regent Honeyeaters and other woodland birds by:
- Protecting remnant woodland in your community or on your land to help provide habitat for all our native animals, including the Regent Honeyeater;
- Leaving dead and fallen timber on the ground and avoid taking trees with hollows. Ask firewood merchants where their timber comes from and avoid box iron-bark species where possible.
- Supporting local efforts to conserve threatened species in your area by joining a local organisation such as a Landcare or catchment groups, natural history or a 'friends of' group, or by volunteering for Green Corps or the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers;
- Participating in special events, information nights and tree planting days.
To find out more about saving your state's threatened species check out the Threatened Species Network web site at http://www.wwf.org.au/tsn/index.htm or call the Network's National Office on (02) 9281 5515.
You can also find out more information about Australia's threatened species by calling the Department of the Environment and Heritage's Community Information Unit on free call 1800 803 772