Right on cue, like an actor strutting the stage, a striking male yellow-throated honeyeater made his presence felt in the Waterworks Reserve.
With the first snows of winter settling on kunanyi/Mt Wellington , the honeyeater always lays claim to a patch of exotic winter-flowering vegetation and he takes on all comers.
The flowers of the “Ned Kelly” grevillea are a vital food source in the winter months and they are eyed enviously by other members of the honeyeater family visiting the reserve.
Male yellowthroats defend mating territories year-round and after the breeding season the bird I’m familiar with appears to extend his range to include a flower bed in the centre of the reserve, framing a children’s playground.
The yellowthroat is happy to tolerate the children coming to play, but gives crescent honeyeaters and eastern spinebills short shrift.
The crescent honeyeaters and spinebills come down from their summer breeding territories on the mountain to establish winter ranges closer to the coast. All winter long they engage in skirmishes with yellowthroats. The crescent honeyeaters generally come off worse – being chased off without getting a feed – but the spinebills use their smaller size and aerial dexterity to nip in to steal a quick sip of nectar.
The spinebills, with long scimitar bills as their name suggests, are the “pick-pockets” of the bird world, stealing food before the yellowthroats realise what is going on.
Throughout the Hobart suburbs these jousts take place during the winter months. In gardens that do not have the tall native trees favoured by the yellowthroats – from which they glean insect food if they are not feeding on food produced by flowers – the wars in the grevilleas and bottlebrushes usually take place between resident New Holland honeyeaters and the crescent honeyeater and spinebill raiders.
My interest though in the autumn and winter months is concentrated on the yellowthroats. I find them stunningly beautiful birds and it is no surprise that when BirdLife Tasmania was founded it was decided to choose an image of the species as the organisation’s official emblem. BirdLife Tasmania’s newsletter is, in fact, called The Yellowthroat, but many Tasmanians unfamiliar with birds are unaware of its existence.
Because it often hides in the canopy of tall eucalypts the yellowthroat escapes our notice, although its familiar song, which I can only describe as a rapid-fire “chortle”, rings through the leafier suburbs.
The yellow-throated honeyeater is a medium-sized honeyeater with a relatively long tail. The average length is 21 cm. The plumage is bright olive green above, with a silver-grey crown, face, and underbelly contrasting with a distinctive bright yellow chin and throat. Females, which are smaller than males, are duller in colour.
The yellowthroat is only found in Tasmania – one of 12 species endemic to these islands – and so is much sought-after by mainland birdwatchers wanting to add to their Australian checklists of birds spotted.
It may often slip under the radar in its home state, but the large number of visiting birdwatchers to be found searching for it at the Waterworks Reserve in the spring and summer months are evidence that its reputation has spread far and wide.