The foraging behaviour of Australian honeyeaters: a review and some comparisons with hummingbirds


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The foraging behaviour of Australian honeyeaters is reviewed in terms of diet, foraging selectivity, foraging flight mode, quality and quantity of nectar encountered per flower, flower densities encountered and effect of predation. At the same time comparisons are made between honeyeaters and hummingbirds. These two groups of birds are superficially similar. Both feed on nectar and insects. Both tend to have long curved bills and tongues adapted for removal of nectar from flowers. Both tend to feed at long, red flowers. However, on close inspection, honeyeaters and hummingbirds are quite dissimilar. For example, many honeyeaters include fruit in their diets. Hummingbirds almost never eat fruit. Honeyeaters appear to be considerably less nectarivorous and more insectivorous than hummingbirds. Honeyeaters are, for the most part, larger than hummingbirds and they usually perch while feeding whereas hummingbirds usually hover. Honeyeaters but not hummingbirds often flock while feeding. Predation appears to be considerably more important for honeyeaters than for hummingbirds. Territorial defense of flowers seems common in hummingbirds but uncommon in honeyeaters. These differences are discussed in detail and explanations are offered for them wherever possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-369
Number of pages27
JournalAustralian Journal of Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1980
Externally publishedYes


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