Bumper breeding success in Upper Hunter raises hope for regents post fires

Supported by Hunter LLS through the Australian Government’s Bushfire Emergency Pest and Habitat Protection funding, emergency initiatives have been activated to help reduce threats to the Regent Honeyeater in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area that was almost 80% burnt in recent unprecedented bushfires.

The valleys on the edge of the World Heritage Area (WHA) contain some of the most important breeding and feeding habitats for the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater.

The DPIE Saving Our Species staff and the Regent Honeyeater National Recovery Team convened to determine the potential devastating impacts for Regent Honeyeater earlier this year post the fires. Key threats identified included loss of potential breeding habitats to fire, impacts in unburnt refuges on breeding from competitor species such as Noisy Miners and subsequent loss or minimal flowering of primary feed trees from a combination of drought and fire impacts.

Hunter Local Land Services supported BirdLife Australia and the Australian National University to conduct urgent Noisy Miner culling in one partially burnt valley in the Upper Hunter.

“Noisy Miners, while a native species, are aggressive and territorial and are listed as a key threatening process for the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater,” said Lyndel Wilson, NRM Team Leader Hunter LLS.

“They can exclude Regent Honeyeaters from breeding sites such as the remaining unburnt and partially burnt open valleys adjoining the World Heritage Area.

“There is anecdotal evidence that burnt areas are also ‘opened up’ post-fire, thus making the habitat more suitable to miners.”

Post-fire control of the Noisy Miner commenced during winter to reduce competition in an attempt to boost the honeyeater’s population numbers. This initiative was combined with a bold release of 20 captive-bred Regent Honeyeaters in the Lower Hunter, to also increase national Regent Honeyeater numbers post-fire in “likely” suitable breeding areas with available food source such as Eucalypt blossom.

“This control program conducted over 1800 hectares of known breeding habitat has reduced the local Noisy Miner population by more than 80%,” said Lyndel.

“This is a great result, and subsequently two pairs of Regent Honeyeaters with a total of five healthy chicks have been observed in the treatment area.”

The adults of one pair were actively feeding chicks with insects, and nectar exclusively from local flowering Needle-leaf Mistletoe, growing on mature River She-oaks. Mistletoe is an extremely important food source for a range of woodland birds, but also creates suitable structures to build nests in too.

“This is the result we were hoping for.” Lyndel.

“We are working with experts in our region, in NSW and nationally through the Recovery Team and Local Land Services to ensure the right actions happen when and where they are needed to support this species and its habitats.

“Having several breeding pairs in one valley, post bushfires and with key threats reduced, is the ultimate outcome for these bushfire response efforts.”

Future actions based on post captive release monitoring results, and Noisy Miner control success are currently being investigated through Hunter LLS, with Birdlife Australia and the recovery team, with the ongoing support from the Australian Government.

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