Birds in Backyards

Black Honeyeater, male. Black Honeyeater, male.
Photo: Purnell Collection © Australian Museum

Black Honeyeaters. Black Honeyeaters.
Photo: Purnell Collection © Australian Museum

Distribution map of Certhionyx niger Distribution map of Certhionyx niger
Map © Birds Australia Birdata

Did you know?

Black Honeyeaters, especially females, often eat charcoal and ash at old camp-fire remains.

Facts and figures

Research Species: No
Minimum size: 10 cm
Maximum size: 13 cm
Average size: 12 cm
Average weight: 9.5 g
Breeding season: July to December
Clutch size: Usually two, rarely one or three.
Incubation: 15 days
Time in nest: 16 days

Calls

High-pitched, weak 'peeee', usually by breeding males.

Conservation status

Federal - Secure
NSW - Secure
NT - Secure
Qld - Secure
SA - Secure
Tas - Not present
Vic - Secure
WA - Secure

Status of Australian Birds

Plants associated with this species

Emu-bush, Eremophila species; mistletoes.

Black Honeyeater

Scientific name: Certhionyx niger
Family: Meliphagidae
Order: Passeriformes

Featured Bird Groups
Honeyeaters

What does it look like?

Description

The Black Honeyeater is a small honeyeater with a long slender down-curved bill, a plump body and a short tail. Males are black and white, with a black head, neck, wings and upperparts, white underbody and a black stripe running down from the centre of the chest to the abdomen (belly). Females have a brown head and upper body, with a pale eye-stripe, and have a speckled grey-brown chest grading into a white abdomen. This species is found in the drier parts of the mainland and has been called the Charcoal Bird.

Similar species

The related Pied Honeyeater, C. variegatus, has similar colourings in both male and female, but it is a larger bird, with a longer tail, thicker, paler bill and has a distinctive crescent-shaped bare skin patch below the eye. Males also lack the central chest stripe and have a white patch on the wing while females have a black and white wing patch (the Black Honeyeater males have an all-black wing while the females have a much plainer grey-brown wing) and a more obviously streaked throat.

Where does it live?

Distribution

The Black Honeyeater is a bird of inland regions, being widespread in western and central Queensland, widespread but scattered through western New South Wales to the South Australian border and occasionally recorded in the Victorian Mallee and Wimmera regions. In South Australia, it occurs in the south-east from Innamincka to the Flinders Ranges and occasionally to the Adelaide Plain and Yorke Peninsula. It is widespread in Western Australia, north of 30°S, through the Gascoyne and Pilbara regions to Karratha and Port Hedland, with some rare records in the south, near Kalgoorlie. In the Northern Territory, it is widespread around Alice Springs and areas west or south-west, with some vagrants to the Top End.

Habitat

The Black Honeyeater is found in open woodlands and shrublands of arid and semi-arid regions, especially those with an understorey of Emu-bush, Eremophila species, as well as in Mulga or mallee eucalypt woodlands and Broombush, Melaleuca uncinata. It will also be found in spinifex savanna where flowering shrubs such as grevilleas and paperbarks occur.

Seasonal movements

Considered to be nomadic, with seasonal movements related to flowering of food plants, especially Emu-bush and mistletoe, as well as in response to drought. Some movements are southwards in spring and summer, moving northwards again in autumn and winter. Irruptions (sudden population increases) can occur in some areas.

What does it do?

Feeding

The Black Honeyeater feeds on insects and nectar, probing flowers and foliage with its long fine bill. It is mainly found in the crowns of eucalypts, at clumps or mistletoe or in shrubs, especially Emu-bush, Eremophila. Normally found alone, in pairs or small flocks, it may sometimes form large mixed flocks at food sources, associating with other honeyeaters such as the Pied Honeyeater and woodswallows e.g. White-browed Woodswallows, Artamus superciliosus. Black Honeyeaters, particularly females, have often been recorded eating charcoal and ash from old camp-fires.

Breeding

Breeding pairs of Black Honeyeaters will nest in groups or loose colonies, with males aggressively defending a small breeding territory against members of their own species as well as other honeyeaters (e.g. Singing and Tawny-crowned Honeyeaters) or Crimson Chats. The female builds the shallow, open cup-shaped nest from fine twigs, grass, and other plant material bound with spiderweb, lining it with grass, roots, fibre, horse hair, flowers or wool. The nest is usually close to the ground in the fork of a small tree or shrub. The female incubates alone, but both sexes feed and care for the young.

Living with us

Living with humans

The Black Honeyeater may be adversely affected by the loss of Emu-bush to grazing and weed control by farmers.

References

Higgins, P.J., Peter, J.M. and Steele, W.K. (eds) 2001. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 5 (Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats). Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Simpson, K and Day, N. 1999. Field guide to the birds of Australia, 6th Edition. Penguin Books, Australia.

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