Animal Species:Black Honeyeater

Black Honeyeaters, especially females, often eat charcoal and ash at old camp-fire remains.

Black Honeyeater, male

Purnell Collection © Australian Museum

Standard Common Name

Black Honeyeater

Alternative Name/s

Charcoal Bird

Identification

The Black Honeyeater is a small honeyeater with a long slender down-curved bill, a plump body and a short tail. Males are black and white, with a black head, neck, wings and upperparts, white underbody and a black stripe running down from the centre of the chest to the abdomen (belly). Females have a brown head and upper body, with a pale eye-stripe, and have a speckled grey-brown chest grading into a white abdomen.

 

Size range

10 cm to 13 cm

Similar Species

Pied Honeyeater,

Distribution

The Black Honeyeater is a bird of inland regions, being widespread in western and central Queensland, widespread but scattered through western New South Wales to the South Australian border and occasionally recorded in the Victorian Mallee and Wimmera regions. In South Australia, it occurs in the south-east from Innamincka to the Flinders Ranges and occasionally to the Adelaide Plain and Yorke Peninsula. It is widespread in Western Australia, north of 30°176´S, through the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions to Karratha and Port Hedland, with some rare records in the south, near Kalgoorlie. In the Northern Territory, it is widespread around Alice Springs and areas west or south-west, with some vagrants to the Top End.

Habitat

The Black Honeyeater is found in open woodlands and shrublands of arid and semi-arid regions, especially those with an understorey of Emu-bush, Eremophila species, as well as in Mulga or mallee eucalypt woodlands and Broombush, Melaleuca uncinata. It will also be found in spinifex savanna where flowering shrubs such as grevilleas and paperbarks occur.

Seasonality

Considered to be nomadic, with seasonal movements related to flowering of food plants, especially Emu-bush and mistletoe, as well as in response to drought. Some movements are southwards in spring and summer, moving northwards again in autumn and winter. Irruptions (sudden population increases) can occur in some areas.

Feeding and Diet

The Black Honeyeater feeds on insects and nectar, probing flowers and foliage with its long fine bill. It is mainly found in the crowns of eucalypts, at clumps or mistletoe or in shrubs, especially Emu-bush, Eremophila. Normally found alone, in pairs or small flocks, it may sometimes form large mixed flocks at food sources, associating with other honeyeaters such as the Pied Honeyeater and woodswallows e.g. White-browed Woodswallows, Artamus superciliosus. Black Honeyeaters, particularly females, have often been recorded eating charcoal and ash from old camp-fires.

Communication

High-pitched, weak 'peeee', usually by breeding males.

Mating and reproduction

Breeding pairs of Black Honeyeaters will nest in groups or loose colonies, with males aggressively defending a small breeding territory against members of their own species as well as other honeyeaters (e.g. Singing and Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters) or Crimson Chats. The female builds the shallow, open cup-shaped nest from fine twigs, grass, and other plant material bound with spiderweb, lining it with grass, roots, fibre, horse hair, flowers or wool. The nest is usually close to the ground in the fork of a small tree or shrub. The female incubates alone, but both sexes feed and care for the young.

  • Breeding season: July to December
  • Clutch size: Usually two, rarely one or three.
  • Incubation: 15 days
  • Time in nest: 16 days

Conservation Status

The Black Honeyeater may be adversely affected by the loss of Emu-bush to grazing and weed control by farmers.

Classification

Species:
niger
Genus:
Certhionyx
Family:
Meliphagidae
Order:
Passeriformes
Class:
Aves
Subphylum:
Vertebrata
Phylum:
Chordata
Kingdom:
Animalia

What does this mean?

References

  • Higgins, P.J., Peter, J.M. and Steele, W.K. (eds) 2001. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 5 (Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
  • Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition. Penguin Books, Australia.


Ondine Evans
Last Updated:

Tags BIBY, bird, birds, black, honeyeaters, charcoal bird, identification,