Justification of Red List Category
This species qualifies as Vulnerable owing to an inferred continuing decline in its small, fragmented range and population size. It is restricted to high altitudes and is at risk from the effects of climate change. Should the population be found to be stable, or larger than currently thought, it would warrant downlisting to a lower threat category.
The population is poorly-known but 11 individuals were counted (along with 70 Sooty Melidectes Melidectes fuscus) on 12 censuses in the Kaijende Highlands (Beehler and Sine 2007). The population is precautionarily estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals, with possibly no more than 1000 in any subpopulation, based on the small number of individuals recorded across its restricted geographical range.
There are no data on population trends and its high-altitude locations are largely safe from direct impacts. However, the species is thought to be slowly declining because of habitat degradation at some of its more accessible locations close to centres of human population such as Mt Hagen.
Melidectes princeps has a restricted range in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. It is known only from Mt Giluwe, Minj R, Mt Hagen, the Kubor Range, Mt Wilhelm, Mt Michael and in the Mt Kaijende Highlands of Enga Province, 70 km north west of Mt Hagen, although it presumably ranges west to the Strickland River gorge (B. Beehler in litt. 2007, Beehler and Pratt 2016). It is reported to be fairly common within this range (Mayr and Gilliard 1954, Beehler et al. 1986, Coates 1990, B. Beehler in litt. 2007) but there are no published indications of numbers or population trends.
It has been recorded from shrublands, mossy forest and copses near the treeline and in scrubby forest clumps in alpine grassland (Pratt and Beehler 2015, Beehler and Pratt 2016), mostly between 3,000-3,800 m, but down to 2,750 m in the Kubor Range (Beehler et al. 1986, Coates 1990). It is probably excluded from adjacent mountain ranges by congeners (Diamond 1972, Beehler et al. 1986). Nests have been found in June and July, the late wet season and early dry season (Coates 1990). Congeneric honeyeaters are noisy, pugnacious birds of the forest canopy, feeding in pairs or small groups on nectar, insects and some fruit.
This species is believed to be threatened by habitat degradation (J. M. Diamond in litt. 1987, B. Beehler in litt. 1994), but because it is an edge specialist it may conversely be unaffected (B. Beehler in litt. 2007). This region of the Highlands has a dense human population and although cultivation stops below this species's altitudinal range, there may be some habitat degradation from fires, usually started in the dry-season by hunters (B. Beehler in litt. 2000, B. Whitney in litt. 2000). The main potential future threat is climate change, as this is one of New Guinea's high elevation specialists, and may lose its subalpine habitat with climate change (B. Beehler in litt. 2007); however, the species may move upwards in response to habitat shifts (Beehler and Sine 2007).
Conservation Actions Underway
None is known.
27 cm Large, dark honeyeater with wispy white beard reaching bend of wing. Uniformly sooty-grey plumage with paler fringes. Long, black slender bill. Rich orange bare skin patch behind eye. Similar spp. Sooty Honeyeater M. fuscus has shorter bill and lacks beard. Belford's Honeyeater M. belfordi (and Yellow-browed Honeyeater M. rufocrissalis at lower altitudes) have shorter white throat-stripes, blue facial skin and shorter bills. Extralimital Short-bearded Honeyeater M. nouhuysi has shorter bill and beard. Voice Unrecorded. Hints Walk up Mt Wilhelm from Kegsugl and search above the treeline.
Text account compilers
Mahood, S., O'Brien, A., Dutson, G., Stattersfield, A., North, A., Derhé, M.
Whitney, B., Beehler, B., Diamond, J.
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Melionyx princeps. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/10/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/10/2022.