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How can we save the regent honeyeater from extinction?

A new study from Australian National University (ANU) creates a stark choice: step up conservation efforts or lose the regent honeyeater, a beautiful songbird, within 20 years. The new study reveals that even the current intensive conservation efforts aren’t enough.

“The regent honeyeater population has been decimated by the loss of over 90 per cent of their preferred woodland habitats,” said study lead author Professor Rob Heinsohn.

“Less than 80 years ago, it was one of the most commonly encountered species, ranging from Adelaide to Rockhampton. Now it is on track to follow the dodo into extinction.”

There are currently less than 300 regent honeyeaters left, making it one of Australia’s rarest birds. Habitat destruction forces the remaining honeyeaters to compete with larger birds for less habitat.

In 2015 the ANU researchers began an intensive research project focused on gaining greater understanding of the regent honeyeater’s decline. After years of field work, the scientists discovered that the decline in nest success was due to predation by other bird species and possums. 

In the new research, the scientists used their hard won field data to create a population model that predicts the bird’s future population. 

“Our models show that current conservation efforts have provided essential life support for the regent honeyeaters, but do not go far enough,” said study co-author Dr. Ross Crates. “We were able to isolate the three key conservation priorities necessary to secure the birds’ future.” 

The first conservation priority the research lays out is a doubling of nest success rates in both wild and zoo bred animals, facilitated by protecting the nests from predators. 

Next captive breeding efforts releasing birds into the Blue Mountains must increase and remain steady for twenty years in addition to nest protection. 

Lastly, the research emphasizes that the regent honeyeater can only survive into the future if more habitat is preserved and restored. 

“Without more habitat, reintroductions and nest protection efforts will be futile, because the flock sizes will never reach the critical mass needed for the birds to breed safely without our protection,” said Professor Heinsohn.  

“Our study provides both hope and a dire warning – we can save these birds, but it will take a lot of effort and resources over a long time to pull it off.” 

The study is published in the journal Biological Conservation.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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