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The honeyeaters make up Australia's biggest family of birds, and thus there are many species found in the Australian tropical rainforest.
They are, as the name suggests, nectar feeders, and thus vital pollinators for many Australian plants. They are in many ways the ecological equivalent of the African/Asian Sunbirds and the American Hummingbirds. However, most honeyeaters are much bigger than the overseas nectar feeders, and most are not delicate enough to hover. Despite the name, honeyeaters do not exclusively feed on nectar, for while it is high in energy giving carbohydrates (ie; sugar), it is low in nutrients (Simpson et al 1996). Thus, no honeyeater can survive without including a few insects in their diet (Simpson et al 1996). Some ingest them while naturally feeding from flowers, but many ‘honeyeaters’ are actually more ‘insectivorous’ than nectivorous.
Many of the physical features of honeyeaters are reflections of their nectar feeding lifestyle. Most have a bill that is curved to some extent, with Slater et al (1998) suggesting the bill shape largely reflects the types of flowers they are visiting. Another adaptation is the long tongue; it is split into 4 tiny hair like extensions at the end (Lindsey 1998) to give it the appearance of a brush, and this assists in ‘mopping up’ the liquid nectar by capillary action (Simpson et al 1996). Some honeyeaters can move this tongue at more than 10 licks per second (Simpson et al 1996).
Beyond this, generalizations of lifestyle and behavior are hard to make with such a large and diverse family. Like many hummingbirds, honeyeaters can be territorial, often chasing others away from their nectar or insect source. Breeding seasons are extremely varied, reflecting the different times of nectar production in different plants (Egerton 1997). A mated pair will usually construct a cup shaped nest suspended in the horizontal fork of a tree (Slater et al 2000). This may then be lined with softer material such as fur feathers and plants (Egerton 1997). As with some other types of Australian birds, it is not unusual for assistant parenting from non-breeding pairs to occur (Egerton 1997).