During April and May, a massive honeyeater migration was seen across South East Queensland. Due to the diminutive size of these birds, their migration could have easily gone unnoticed. However, if you tuned your ear in to their calls or looked skywards, it was truly a remarkable spectacle.

We are not exactly sure how many birds migrated this autumn, but counters near Sydney recorded nearly 50,000 individuals. One afternoon, on my friend’s back deck at Mt Glorious, we counted 500 individuals in 20 minutes. That rate continued throughout the day.

While there is still much to learn about these fascinating wildlife movements, we do know that the main species involved is the Yellow-faced Honeyeater. While sedentary and feeding, they make a “chuck- up, chuck-up” call; one of the easier calls to remember. When flying, they make a single note contact call. Other migrants that made the journey from south to north include Scarlet Honeyeaters, White-naped Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, and Striated and Spotted Pardalotes.

Yellow Faced Honeyeater
A Male Scarlet Honeyeater

Two of the autumn migrants, a Yellow- faced Honeyeater (left) and a Scarlet Honeyeater (right is a stunning male)

It would seem that SEQ is both a short stop-over for some birds and a terminus for others. While populations are definitely boosted during autumn and winter, some of these species (e.g. Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters, Silvereyes and pardalotes) are found in SEQ year-round. Do migrating individuals mingle with the locals, or do they push our resident birds further north? We just don’t know.

We do know that some individuals travel a long way. Silvereyes migrate from as far south as Tasmania and, surprisingly, many fly at night. Whereas honeyeaters travel from mid-NSW and fly during the day.

Land for Wildlife members can help researchers learn more about these migrations. Whilst sitting on your deck having afternoon tea, look up and listen for small birds flying over (heading north in autumn and south in spring). Often they pause on a tree top and this is your time to identify them using binoculars. Otherwise, you can simply count numbers, preferably over 20 minutes. Ideally, record your observations in eBird – it is an online database that is a pleasure to use. An enjoyable database seems like an oxymoron, but trust me, it isn’t. Happy counting.

Photos by Todd Burrows.
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