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From: "Philip A. Veerman" <>
To: "birding aus" <>
Subject: Meliphagidae Phylogeny & RH mimicry origins:
Date: Fri, 3 Sep 2004 21:35:02 +1000
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My earlier message (and a correction of it) seems not to have gone
I think that may be because I included italics, which blocked it. So I=20=

try again, with a third go. Stupid thing now changes it to 12 point
sorry about that. Apologies if three versions now come through but I

Hi All,

As for the similarity of the Regent Honeyeater calls and mimicry. When I
first encountered a Regent Honeyeater (RH) I noted that the only call
bird was making was indistinguishable (apart from lesser volume and some
lesser hoarseness) from the Red Wattlebird (RW). In my then very limited
understanding of evolutionary processes, I thought it peculiar and
interpreted this as evidence of relationship. This was in 1974 when I
was in
final year of school. It was only years later that I realised (from
that the Regent Honeyeater had other calls, that are different from
those of
wattlebirds. Remember in 1974 the only books available concerning the
honeyeaters were Cayley's, Leach's & Hugh Officer's.  I didn't think of=20=

again for years, until there was a lot of attention devoted to the
(for its declining status). Following this more reports of its mimicry=20=


The mimicry idea was not only mine (but it was me who wrote it up). It=20=

Don Franklin who suggested it to me in a letter dated 19-11-1987,
"Your note describing a call resembling a RW I found particularly
and I suggest you reconsider the possibility of vocal mimicry. Apparent
vocal mimicry has been described 3 times before" (and then listed the
records he had). He was replying to a letter I sent to Peter Menkhorst=20=

this behaviour, that Peter had sent to him. I appreciated his
suggestion. As
what struck me was the very unusual circumstances in which all the
occurred, I sought further evidence and developed the idea. Experts in=20=

mimicry from outside Australia have since then been very interested in=20=

behaviour. The top of page 189 of my first ABW article on the subject
=91Vocal mimicry of larger honeyeaters by the Regent Honeyeater =
phrygia=92, Australian Bird Watcher 14: 180=96189) clearly postulates a=20=

evolutionary relationship as one possible basis for the use of
and friarbird calls by this species. Especially with this further
I believe both aspects are involved, or it adds an extra dimension to
what I
am still sure is true mimicry. I am not a bit surprised at stronger
than previously available, that the RH is genetically close to the RW
closer than the LW is to the RW is a little hard to believe). I guess it
depends a bit on the relative importance of the particular genetic loci
being looked at.  The behaviour is consistent with and appears to be
elicited as functional mimicry. It is also very likely based on a deeper
inherited capacity. It is very different from typical random copying
of other birds in the way done by lyrebirds, bowerbirds, orioles, etc.=20=

I know lyrebirds learn from other lyrebirds.) It is the context of the
mimicry that is really odd, that it is invoked in particular
being winter-time association of solitary Regent Honeyeaters among
groups of
wattlebirds, and not at all whilst breeding. The question arises as to=20=

they do the same with friarbirds (although I have not personally
that). Notwithstanding that alarm calls of many Meliphaga honeyeaters
very close, it is not just a similar call from related species
Birds of other species do not spontaneously make calls of closely
species when surrounded by them, in the same context as done by the RH.

The Regent Honeyeater is big in colour, if not in size, compared to the=20=


As for the Blue-faced HE being aligned to the Melithreptus group, well I
always thought that was obvious. They look so similar and sound in some=20=

similar. Nothing terribly special about gigantism, it is one of them,

     -----Original Message-----
From:  <>
     To:  <>
Date: Wednesday, 1 September 2004 13:39
     Subject: [BIRDING-AUS] Re: Meliphagidae Phylogeny

     "I only recently saw my first Regent Honeyeater at Chiltern NP =
last year and then I thought it was like a big colourful Wattlebird".
Actually, they are like a small colourful wattlebird ... but, not to

     For those that haven't read the piece in question, the large
wattlebirds, the Red and Yellow, are more closely related to the Regent
Honeyeater than they are to the Little and Brush Wattlebirds. It is
that the Regent Honeyeater may eventually be reclassified and be
within the Anthochaera genus.

     This approach is contrary to the previous held idea that the Regent
Honeyeater was in a monotypic genus probably most closely related to the
highland Papuan honeyeaters of the genus Melidectes.

     This research backs up a number of observations, particularly
behavioural similarities between Regent Honeyeaters and the large
wattlebirds, similarities in the colour and pattern of the eggs and
similarities in calls.

     Most notably, the begging calls of juvenal Regent Honeyeaters are=20=

inseparable from that of Red Wattlebirds. In addition, some
vocalisations of
Regent Honeyeaters have previously been interpreted as vocal mimicry of
wattlebird calls. As Driskell & Christidis suggest, this may in fact
reflect the shared phylogenetic history of the two genera.

     While this research has highlighted the relatedness of Regent
Honeyeaters with the large wattlebird species it does not diminish the=20=

that Regent Honeyeaters are still very much endangered. If anything it
throws up questions as to why the Regent Honeyeater has become so
while it's closest relative, the Red Wattlebird, continues to do so


     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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