One of the most delightful birds to be found in the Hunter Valley is the tiny Scarlet Honeyeater.
Weighing only 13 grams and measuring 11 centimetres, this bird has a distinctive tinkling bell-like call that can be heard in almost any local woodland at this time of the year. Walka Water Works is ringing with their calls.
Scarlet Honeyeaters are found along the east coast of Australia from Cooktown to Gippsland in Victoria and favour open forests and woodlands with sparse understory, especially around wetlands.
They feed on nectar, fruit and insects and are difficult to see as they are usually high in the tree canopy and very fast moving.
They also frequent urban gardens and parks and I have observed them in my suburb feeding in Bottlebrush and Grevillea flowers, both good plants to attract them to your garden.
The male honeyeater is a vivid scarlet red and black bird with whitish underparts and is most often seen when you catch the flash of red. They are so brightly coloured, in fact, that they were once known as “Blood Birds”.
Ironically, with its head, breast and upper back all with bright-scarlet plumage, this species of honeyeater is well camouflaged as it flits about among the blossoms of callistemon (or bottlebrush) shrubs, whose flowers are similarly coloured bright red. This makes these honeyeaters remarkably difficult to see as they probe the blooms to feed on the nectar.The female and immature birds are a dull brown with a whitish belly and may have a reddish wash on the chin.
The birds have a curved bill like many honeyeaters, evolved to get nectar from the flowers.
Scarlet Honeyeaters from southern Australia including the Hunter Valley take part in a massive honeyeater migration to south-east Queensland in April and May each year returning in September to breed.
These migrating flocks include several different species and up to 50000 birds have been counted over several weeks heading north to seek flowering nectar bearing plants.
The honeyeaters build a small cup shaped nest suspended from a branch and made from fine bark and grass bound with spider webs. What would birds do without spiders?
They are a food source and provide nest building material a wonderful resource for many birds.
The female honeyeater incubates the eggs alone and both sexes feed the chicks. The pair can have up to three broods in a season.
So next time you are out walking and hear that tinkling call, look up. You may be surprised.