Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Bird of the month: Fuscous Honeyeater

Posted on 25 February, 2021 by Ivan

Welcome to our twelfth Bird of the month, a partnership between Connecting Country and BirdLife Castlemaine District. Each month we’re taking a close look at one special local bird species. We’re excited to join forces to deliver you a different bird each month, seasonally adjusted, and welcome suggestions from the community. We are lucky to have the talented and charismatic Jane Rusden from BirdLife Castlemaine District writing about our next bird of the month, with assistance from the brilliant Damian Kelly and Ash Vigus.

Fuscous Honeyeater (Lichenostomus fuscus)

Since we’ve all been in lockdown and spending most of our days at home, I thought the ever constant, interactive communities of Fuscous Honeyeater a good place to start this month. Partly because their endearing daily antics are the very opposite of what COVID-19 restrictions do to our own lives.

Visually the Fuscous Honeyeater is nothing to rave about, much like us living through lockdown in our PJ’s. In fact, I tell those new to bird watching, if they see a honeyeater but can’t quite work out what species it is, it’s probably a Fuscous. The small yellow tuft of feathers below the eye, on the jawline, can be very difficult to see, and otherwise they are a nondescript, mid olive-brown bird.

Their habit of foraging for insects on the wing, and lerp, honeydew and nectar in the treetops, makes them difficult to see as they flit about in the foliage. There is nothing to indicate which are male and female, although the male is very slightly larger than the female. Immature and non-breeding birds have a yellow gape, whereas breeding birds have an all-black bill (see photo comparison).

Fuscous Honeyeater with a yellow gape, indicating an immature or non-breeding individual (photo: Jane Rusden)

I find the best way to observe this species is at my birdbaths, which they absolutely love – not surprising as they are known to be drawn to water sources. I’ll often see about five birds gathering in a circle like they are at a noisy party, where they shout at each other all at once, then fly off one after the other in quick succession. There have been some long-term studies that indicate the Fuscous Honeyeater is a semi-colonial species, although they breed in monogamous pairs. They lay 1-3 eggs in a cup shaped nest that appear to be quite flimsy. However, they must be successful breeders and their densities can be up to five birds per hectare in highly suitable habitat.

If you find yourself somewhere on the east coast, between South Australia and Queensland, in a dryer forest, straining to looking at an olive-brown honeyeater that you can’t quite identify, but it’s vigorously chasing other birds through the canopy or shouting at it’s friends … you might be looking at a Fuscous Honeyeater.

Fuscous Honeyeater with a black bill indicating it’s a breeding adult (photo: Jane Rusden)

To listen to the call of the Fuscous Honeyeater, please  visit Graeme Chapman’s website – click here

A big thank you to contributors to this edition of Bird of the Month – Jane Rusden and Damian Kelly – for their amazing knowledge and skills.


2 responses to “Bird of the month: Fuscous Honeyeater”

  1. Gayle Gissing says:

    Thankyou so much we have been looking for this little bird in bird books and apps. The birdbath is a wonderful way to see the detail of a bird.

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