Re: Migrating honeyeaters (and other birds)

Subject: Re: Migrating honeyeaters (and other birds)
Date: Tue, 25 May 2004 09:25:19 +1000

Ralph Reid wrote "Does anyone know if all the Australian species that are migratory have been fully identified as being migratory and, if so, has anyone ever produced
route maps of the routes that the various species follow?  Or do they just
sort of flood north and south in a sort of a broad wave, as the spirit moves

As someone who has a real interest in movement patterns of birds, this is the $64 000 question!

Australian birds are very different from those in the northern hemisphere where notions and theories concerning migration were developed.  I think there are very few species of Australian birds in which the movement patterns are understood.  We know that some species have a north-south migration but as to what routes they take - forget it.  Many Australian species are regarded as nomads.  I would even be prepared to question this for many species as I think that many species demonstrate a regularity in their movement patterns that is often influenced, or disrupted, by environmental factors (the Australian environment being much more complex that the northern hemisphere - yes, I know I'm generalising).  This disruption is built in to their movement patterns and the regularity (such as returning to breed in core breeding areas) is often restored with time.

Even for many species with quite strong migratory tendencies, such as Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters and Silvereyes, the route can often be influenced by environmental factors such as flowering patterns of trees. On top that there may be migratory and non-migratory components within a species.  Banding studies have shown that there some Silvereyes and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, for example, are year-round residents.

I studied Cattle Egrets for many years.  Among the young hatched within any breeding colony you would have birds that spent the winter on the other side of the river, others would move a hundred kilometres , some 500 km while others may move 1500km.  Most would return to the natal colony to breed and then spent the following winter in the same area as the previous year.  These winter movements, as many southern birders would appreciate, is south for the winter.

Summer migrants in south-eastern Australia, such as Rufous Fantails and the monarch flycatchers, return to the same patch each summer but other than generalised guesses about where they winter we really have no idea!  Do most birds go to New Guinea or do the southern birds winter in Queensland while the Queensland birds go to PNG?

Analysis of the Birds Australia ABC project (where there was sufficient data) suggested that reporting rates of some birds in different areas showed strong movement patterns.  

I think we are an incredibly long way from the sort of information that Ralph asks about, even for our common birds.



David Geering
Regent Honeyeater Recovery Coordinator
Department of Environment & Conservation
P.O. Box 2111
Dubbo  NSW  2830
Ph: 02 6883 5335 or Freecall 1800 621 056
Fax: 02 6884 9382

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