When Russell Dann spotted a striking regent honeyeater on a birdbath on his property, he could hardly believe his eyes.
- A released captive-bred regent honeyeater has led conservationists to a wild flock of the critically endangered birds
- The captive-bred bird was one 20 released in June in the NSW Hunter Valley in a bid to boost the species low numbers
- Monitoring of regent honeyeaters is continuing and the species features on new Australia Post stamps to raise awarenesss
The critically endangered native species is down to just a few hundred mature birds in the wild, and their range has shrunk considerably in recent years.
“I’d been looking, looking, looking for a while,” Mr Dann said.
“I second-guessed myself, and the next day sure enough, there it was again.
“I grabbed my camera. I was thrilled and delighted.”
Captive-breeding program to save species
The bird spotted by Mr Dann at his NSW Hunter Valley home was one of 20 regent honeyeaters released in the area in June this year, as part of a captive breeding program.
Woodland bird program manager at Birdlife Australia, Mick Roderick, said the female bird had not been sighted for about two months — since the day after her release — and was an exciting find.
He said the NSW Regent Honeyeater Release program was a joint effort between the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Birdlife Australia and the Taronga Conservation Society.
“So, if worst comes to worst, and the species drops off in the wild at least we have an insurance species in the zoos.
“The other aim is to supplement the wild population with the occasional release of captive-bred birds, which is exactly what we did in June in the Lower Hunter.”
Captive-bred bird leads to wild flock
Regent honeyeaters travel widely in search of blossom and are found in the woodlands of south-eastern Australia stretching from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Mr Roderick said 13 of the released captive-bred birds were fitted with small transmitters and recently there was another unexpected discovery.
One of the captive-bred birds, which had not been located for weeks, was found and led the conservationists to a flock of wild regent honeyeaters near Broke, about 30 kilometres from the release site.
“We had a bird wearing a transmitter that went missing for at least three weeks and was subsequently found on a property where we hadn’t found regent honeyeaters for over 20 years,” Mr Roderick said.
“When we went to find this bird, we found six regent honeyeaters at the site.
Mr Roderick said it provided hope for the future of regent honeyeaters and the Lower Hunter was a crucial breeding area.
“This is a bird with an entire population of around 300 individuals, so six birds make up a significant component of that,” he said.
‘Naive to the dangers’: not all birds survive
Mr Roderick said several of the released captive-bred birds had died, which was disappointing but not unexpected.
“It’s normal. It happens when you release captive-bred birds,” he said.
“These birds are essentially naïve to some of the dangers that occur in the wild … do you do expect some of them will be preyed upon by birds like goshawks and butcherbirds.”
Stamp of approval for regent honeyeaters
This month regent honeyeaters have been included in a release of new Australia Post stamps, which aim to highlight some of the country’s most vulnerable native species.
Mr Roderick said it was great to raise awareness.
He said a fresh monitoring program of regent honeyeaters was about to begin, which would also reveal more about the impact of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires.
“Birdlife Australia and the Australian National University are just about to set off on a huge monitoring campaign, going back looking for breeding birds,” Mr Roderick said.
“As we do that we will be visiting some sites affected by last year’s fires, so over the next few months we will get a good handle on what the impacts have been.”