Lost and Found

Monday, 3 April 2023

  • Estimated reading time 3 min

Lost and Found

Regent Honeyeater found 40 km from where it was last seen

A chance sighting of a Regent Honeyeater at a birdbath has revealed the whereabouts of a ‘lost’ bird, which hadn’t been seen for months.

One of the last birds you’d expect to see at a backyard birdbath is a Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater, but that’s exactly the scene that presented itself in a garden near Maitland in New South Wales.

The yellow-black-and-white bird was seen having a drink in Sheree Grant’s back garden. She instantly recognised that it was unusual, and so she took a photo of it.

“I realised it was a Regent Honeyeater,” she said. “It was very exciting to see such a rare bird in my garden!”

Her excitement was contagious — Mick Roderick, BirdLife Australia’s Woodland Bird Program Manager, was excited too.

“The chances of having a photo sent to us of a lost bird is pretty incredible,” he said. After all, the total population of Regent Honeyeaters in the wild is only 250–300.

The bird had coloured bands on its legs (fitted by researchers when it was released last year), so Mick was able to use the unique colour combination to identify the individual bird.

“From Sheree’s photos, we were able to identify the [individual] bird,” he said.

Armed with that information, he knew this bird was a zoo-bred bird that had been released into the Toomalpin Woodlands late last year. And it had a reputation for wandering.

“He wandered around quite a bit [and had earned] quite a reputation among the tracking team.”

“We had no idea where he had gone.”

Indeed, Sheree’s sighting was 40 kilometres from where the Regent had last been seen, three months earlier.

“It’s great to see this bird alive and well,” Mick said.

Radio-tracking Regents

The radio-tracking of Regent Honeyeaters in recent years has provided scientists at BirdLife Australia, Taronga Zoo and other research partners with a mountain of valuable information about the movements of these Critically Endangered birds.

The addition of improved radio-tracking technology to the Recovery Team’s armoury has been a game changer, as it allows us to know exactly where the birds are.

By understanding their movements, by knowing which forests they’re inhabiting — and which parts of forests they’re inhabiting — our researchers have been able to uncover many aspects of the Regent Honeyeater’s ecology and, from that, what the species needs to survive and thrive.

But the batteries in these radio-tracking devices don’t last forever, and when they eventually run out of power, the back-up is to return to the traditional method of looking for the birds, and relying on the public to do the same.

And sometimes it comes up trumps. Just ask Sheree…

If you see a Regent Honeyeater, please let us know by clicking here.