birding-aus Honeyeaters, bill-wiping & reflections

Subject: birding-aus Honeyeaters, bill-wiping & reflections
From: "Carol Probets" <>
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 16:59:49 PST

There are at least a couple of New Holland Honeyeaters which spend a lot 
of their time in my garden throughout the year. During most of last 
October, one of them adopted my Grevillea rosmarinifolia - 3m high by 4m 
wide and flowering well at the time - as its entire feeding territory. 
No matter what time of day I looked out my window, the bird was always 
in that bush. Without fail!

There's not a lot flowering here at the moment, but just yesterday one 
of the New Hollands started spending an inordinate amount of time on a 
branch just outside my dining room window, preoccupied with its 
reflection. It erects all the white feathers on its head and face (not 
the black ones) so that the white patches stick out, occasionally 
flutters towards the window and repeatedly wipes its bill on the branch.

I've seen similar bill-wiping performed by finches and in their case 
it's often described as a part of their courtship behaviour. Robert 
Burton in "Bird Behaviour" (1985) sheds a bit more light on things: 
"Many birds wipe their bills on the perch after feeding, but the Zebra 
Finch also does so as a displacement activity during courtship because 
there is a conflict between sexual attraction and the hostility evoked 
by another bird coming too close." And in the same book, a further 
explanation of diplacement activity: "a well-known phenomenon in which 
an animal that is thwarted in its attempt to carry out an action reacts 
with some irrelevant behaviour".

I guess the honeyeater recognises its reflection as a same-sex bird, 
therefore seeing it not as a potential mate but as a rival. If this is 
the case, it is definitely thwarted in any attempts to repel the 
stubborn intruder who just won't go away! Hence the displacement 
activity (bill-wiping) as an outlet for its frustration.

Anyway, I've found that by hanging a white curtain across the inside of 
the window, the reflection almost disappears from the outside and is no 
longer a problem.

By the way, we haven't heard the Sooty Owl since my last posting on the 

Carol Probets
Katoomba NSW

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