Stand within the nesting territory of yellow-throated honeyeaters in spring and chances are you’ll be in for a shock.
The female of the species is known to steal animal hair to line her nest and it is not unknown for yellow-throated honeyeaters to pluck the hair of humans, although they usually prefer the less tricky option of finding discarded wallaby or possum fur.
Tasmania’s endemic species are known for their quirkiness, their strange habits and calls, wild and wacky indeed. But a hair thief! I didn’t believe it until it happened to me one spring, on kunanyi/Mount Wellington.
I’m surprised it hadn’t occurred before then in my very own garden, in the Waterworks Valley a short distance from the Hobart CBD.
I awake each morning to the myriad calls and songs of the yellowthroats, as they are known to Tasmanian birders. So familiar is the species in town and suburb, and farmland and forest, that it is the symbol of BirdLife Tasmania and gives its name to the title of the organisation’s newsletter.
Although the yellowthroat is generally a canopy feeder, often difficult to see in the treetops, it always announces its presence with a warning trill or a loud chattering “tonk, tonk, tonk” communication call. The yellowthroat, in fact, has a range of songs and calls, and can confound the birdwatcher who thinks he or she has learned them all.
The species is usually seen singly or in pairs, often foraging on the trunks or foliage of large trees.
It’s a fairly large honeyeater, at 21cm slightly bigger than a new holland honeyeater, and carries an understated beauty perfectly suited to keep it hidden in the canopy. Viewed close up, the yellowthroat deserves its status as the Tasmanian birder’s poster species. It has olive-green colouring on the wings and back and speckled yellow-grey underparts. The dark grey crown and face contrasts with a rich yellow chin and throat. Females are smaller than males, with young birds duller overall.
Like the yellow wattlebird, the male yellowthroat is surprisingly aggressive in defending its territory, which is policed year-round, with the males driving off all-comers, particularly other honeyeaters.
Habitat and distribution: Across Tasmania in both wet and dry eucalypt forest, alpine woodland and coastal heath. It is also commonly seen in gardens and parks. Diet: The yellowthroat feeds mainly on seasonally available insects and nectar, and occasionally on fruit and seeds. It feeds at all levels of the canopy, foraging on foliage, bark and flowers. Breeding: The species breeds from August to December, and lays two to three spotted pinkish eggs in a cup-shaped nest made from closely woven grass, bark and spider-webs, lined with fur or hair collected from live animals – and humans! The nest, built by the female, is usually within a metre of the ground in dense bush. The male will feed nestlings if the female starts a second brood. Song: a loud “tonk, tonk, tonk” and other calls. Size: 20-23cm.