Outsmarting the bully boys

Subject: Outsmarting the bully boys
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2002 08:19:56 +1000
Despite working on Regent Honeyeaters now for over eight years I am still 
seeing behaviour that is absolutely fascinating.

I was over in the Capertee Valley (between Lithgow and Mudgee, NSW) late 
last week.  Regent Honeyeaters were present at a site with large, 
scattered flowering eucalypts.  Not unexpectedly each eucalypt was being 
monopolised by Noisy Friarbirds.  Each tree may have up to a dozen or more 
friarbirds, all defending a small territory of prized blossom.  Despite 
the very good flowering at the site none of the other seven species of 
honeyeaters (other than Regent) and two lorikeet species could be 
described as common on the site.  This was almost certainly due to the 
aggression of the friarbirds immediately anything entered their territory.

So, how did the Regents cope with this?  Very admirably, I think.

At times the Regents were scattered across the site but they often moved 
into a tree as a tight flock, generally of about 20 to 30 birds.  They 
would immediately be noisily attacked by the friarbirds into whose 
territory they had encroached.  This noise seemed to attract more Regents 
as birds would come from every direction to join in the fracas.  The 
friarbirds were thus "swamped" by numbers (at one stage 60 Regents were 
seen flying between trees) and while individual Regents were hammered most 
managed to feed on nectar.

Interestingly, this tight-knit flock would move around the tree, as though 
the nectar supply at that spot had diminished below a threshold where it 
was easily, and quickly, accessed.  The flock would spend up to ten 
minutes working through a tree before flying as a tight unit to the next 
flowering tree.  They would gradually move around the site pillaging as 
they went.  I spent a full day and a half at this site and the flock would 
move through a particular point every half to one hour.  At times, 
however, there would be a lull of up to two hours.  At these times I was 
unsure where the flock was but individual birds could always be found.  On 
several occasions I saw the flock reforming with these scattered birds 
converging on the focal tree once again.

Interestingly, the entire time I was observing these birds there was no 
calling.  The only calling by Regents I heard was from a pair with 
dependant juveniles that were not part of this larger flock.  This lack of 
calling is unlike other large foraging flocks encountered in the past. 
Generally larger flocks are easily located by their constant contact 

I have not seen this behaviour before and other researchers involved with 
Regent Honeyeaters have said they have not seen this behaviour.  Perhaps 
this is an artefact of Regent Honeyeater populations being so low that 
there is now little opportunity to outsmart the bully boys in this way. 
The monopolisation of resources by large honeyeaters such as friarbirds 
could be a limiting factor for this endangered species.



David Geering
Regent Honeyeater Recovery Coordinator
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 2111
Dubbo  NSW  2830
Ph: 02 6883 5335 or Freecall 1800 621 056
Fax: 02 6884 9382

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