Justification of Red List Category
The species is classified as Critically Endangered because its population is inferred to have undergone extremely rapid declines over the past three generations (24 years). These declines have been driven primarily by drought, compounded by habitat loss caused by historic clearance for agriculture, and possibly competition with other native species, particularly Noisy Miner.
The breeding population was previously estimated at 1,500 mature individuals, roughly equivalent to 2,200-2,300 individuals in total, but following very rapid declines there were thought to be just 350-400 mature individuals remaining in 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011).
This species is suspected to have declined by >80% over the past three generations (24 years), with declines driven primarily by drought, compounded by habitat loss caused by historic clearance for agriculture, and possibly competition with other native species, particularly Noisy Miner (Garnett et al. 2011).
This species is endemic to south-east Australia, where it now has an extremely patchy distribution within a range stretching from south-east Queensland to central Victoria. Most sightings come from a few sites in north-eastern Victoria, along the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range, New South Wales, and the central coast of New South Wales. It has become extinct in South Australia and has declined to vagrant status in central and western Victoria, and Gippsland. Historically, the species occurred from Adelaide to 100 km north of Brisbane within 300 km of the coast, and was formerly very numerous with 'great' or 'immense' numbers recorded in the 19th century (Higgins et al. 2001). Birds concentrate at a small number of sites when breeding, but numbers fluctuate greatly between years and sites, and movements outside the breeding season are poorly understood. Key breeding areas are the Chiltern section of Chiltern–Mt Pilot National Park, in northeastern Victoria, Capertee Valley in central eastern New South Wales and Bundarra-Barraba region in northern New South Wales (Oliver and Lollback 2010) with a few birds breeding in other areas, such as the Wangaratta-Mansfield region in Victoria, Warrumbungle National Park, Pilliga forests, the Mudgee-Wollar region, and the Hunter and Clarence Valleys (NSW Scientific Committee 2010). In 1997 the population in New South Wales was estimated at a maximum of 1,000 birds but far fewer birds have been recorded since, with maxima of just 40 there in 2009 and 80+ in the Hunter Valley in 2012 (BirdLife Australia 2012), while in Victoria there are probably fewer than ten pairs (Garnett et al. 2011). While the species has regional variation in calls (Powys 2010), banded birds have been recorded moving between all main sites so the species is considered to have a single subpopulation (Garnett et al. 2011).
It is usually observed within box-ironbark eucalypt associations, seeming to prefer wetter, more fertile lowland sites. It also uses riparian forests of river she-oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) in New South Wales, especially for breeding. The other major environment used regularly is wet lowland coastal forests dominated by Swamp Mahogany (Eucalyptus robusta) or Spotted Gum (Corymbia maculata). It requires a diet of nectar, principally from a few key species such as Yellow Box (E. melliodora), White Box (E. albens) and Mugga Ironbark (E. sideroxylon), as well as insects, particularly when breeding (Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team 1998, C. Tzaros in litt. 2003). It also feeds on sugary exudates. In poor years, it is not clear whether birds fail to nest or shift elsewhere to breed. Nests are usually built in the crowns of tall trees, mostly eucalypts and sometimes among mistletoe (Garnett et al. 2011).
About 75% of its habitat has been cleared for agricultural and residential development. Much of the preferred lowland habitat on the most fertile and productive sites has been cleared or substantially modified and this has resulted in poorer and unreliable nectar-sources through the reduction of large mature trees (C. Tzaros in litt. 2003). Remnants, including much of what currently exists in the conservation reserve system, have been heavily cut-over and degraded, and this practice is continuing in many areas, including hardwood production forests. These remnants are highly fragmented and often degraded by removal of larger trees and ongoing declines in tree health (Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team 1998, C. Tzaros in litt. 2003, Garnett et al. 2011). The Lower Hunter Valley Important Bird Area, a critical site for this species, has been under threat from the proposed development of an industrial park in the area - the Hunter Economic Zone (HEZ) (Roderick et al. 2013, Vine and Dutson 2014). The site contains the most important area of foraging habitat for the species in the Lower Hunter Region (Roderick et al. 2013) and a significant breeding event in 2007-2008, where a total of 19 nests were located (additional nests may have been missed), demonstrates the site contains significant breeding habitat as well. Despite this, in 2009 the New South Wales Government had a precinct development proposal within HEZ (Roderick et al. 2014), which in 2016 was taken back after the New South Wales Land and Environment Court decided to preserve the habitat (BirdLife Australia in litt. 2016). The recent dramatic population decline of the Regent Honeyeater coincides with a 12-year period of reduced rainfall in south-eastern Australia. Fragmentation has apparently advantaged more aggressive honeyeaters, particularly Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) and Noisy Friarbird (Philemon corniculatus) which may be excluding the species (Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team 1998, C. Tzaros in litt. 2003, Garnett et al. 2011). In 2013 previously unrecorded internal and external parasites were found on captive-bred birds; when released, these could endanger wild populations. What was once a very large population has declined so quickly that a severe loss of genetic variability must now be a threat (Garnett et al. 2011). It has been suggested that the severe decline of the species is partly attributable to an undetected demographic Allee effect (Crates et al. 2017). The destruction of eggs by the introduced House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), predation of eggs by the Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) and Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and predation of nestlings by the Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen) and Pied Currawong (Strepera craculina) have been identified as a serious threat to the Regent Honeyeater (S. Dooley in litt. 2015, Szabo 2016).
Conservation Actions Underway
Surveys of range and abundance are conducted annually. Detailed research has been conducted on breeding biology. Restrictions have been placed on grazing and timber extraction at some important sites. Extensive replanting of habitat trees has occurred. A recovery plan is being implemented. Captive colonies have been established, and in 2000 a trial release of one bird took place in Capertree Valley, in which it was noted first-year birds struggled post release (Ingwersen 2008). Following on, in 2008 27 birds (fitted with radio transmitters) were released in Chiltern National Park (Anon. 2008), of which 18 were still seen regularly and breeding attempts were recorded (Ingwersen 2008). Two further releases have occurred (2010 and 2013) and 117 of the 312 individuals so far bred in captivity have been released in the wild (Liu et al. 2014). Prior to releasing 77 birds in the Chiltern National Park in 2015, a culling programme to control Noisy Miners was initiated (Szabo 2016). In 2012, 50 birds were recorded at a single property which had been placed under a covenant by BirdLife Australia’s Woodland Birds for Biodiversity Project in 2011 to protect its woodland vegetation (BirdLife Australia 2012). Many of these birds were colour-banded to help monitor their future movements. To reduce the risk of disease transfer between captive and wild populations, a workshop was held in October 2014 from which a Disease Risk Analysis was produced (Jakob-Hoff et al. 2015). A programme of education and community involvement began in 2008, involving awareness campaigns in local schools and tree-planting initiatives (Liu et al. 2014).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor wild birds at all recently used sites. Determine trends using existing sightings database and bird atlas project, largely through assistance of community-based surveys coordinated by the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team and the Threatened Bird Network. Determine movement patterns and degree of isolation between breeding populations. Determine impact of M. melanocephala and P. corniculatus on population stability. Establish and maintain a reintroduced/translocated population. Prepare regional guidelines for habitat management, and research silvicultural techniques to accelerate maturity in key food species. Continue to restore habitat at a landscape scale and support and develop captive breeding programmes. Protect all regularly-used breeding and feeding sites on public land including Travelling Stock Routes. Continue to conduct a public education programme. Determine and monitor habitat quality. Continue to support conservation management through the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team and its operations groups. Continue to support community, particularly landholder, involvement in the recovery programme. Study genetic variability, particularly the extent to which the captive population is representative of wild variability. Protect the Lower Hunter Valley from development and habitat destruction/degradation. Investigate nest predation and implement predator control.
20-24 cm. Medium-sized, black honeyeater, boldly patterned yellow-and-white. Bare, dull, yellow, warty skin surrounds dark eye. Black head and neck. Creamy breast with black chevrons, whiter on lower belly. Embroidered black and pale lemon from mantle to rump. Tail black above with yellow tip and edge, bright yellow underneath. Three yellow panels in folded wing, some coverts tipped white. Female smaller, duller. Juvenile more brown. Similar spp. Painted Honeyeater Grantiella picta is smaller with pink bill and white underparts, voice differs. Voice Distinctive. Mellow song of bell-like notes.
Text account compilers
Hermes, C., Garnett, S., McClellan, R., Benstead, P., Symes, A., Taylor, J., Wright, L
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Anthochaera phrygia. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/01/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 20/01/2020.