The 'Heberton Honeyeater' Conundrum

On my recent trip to North Queensland I was lucky enough to find some of the so-called 'Heberton Honeyeaters' at Springvale Road, about 10km SSE of the town of Heberton.

These honeyeaters have been discussed at length for some time, most publicly by Lloyd Nielsen in his excellent book Birds of the Wet Tropics of Queensland and Great Barrier Reef and How to Find Them (there's a long book title!). They seem to fit into neither Yellow-tinted Honeyeater or Fuscous Honeyeater for the reasons Lloyd describes. I had literally no experience of any species of honeyeater before my trip but I was able to watch c18 of these interesting birds in the mixed (but predominantly pine) forest along Springvale Road and even get a few pictures. To me they look like dull Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters although I realise that voice, behavoir, nesting, habitat etc all need to be taken into consideration alongside just physical appearance. Several of the birds I saw were fully-grown juveniles which interestingly had distinct two-tone bills which according to my field guides is only shown in Fuscous Honeyeater. They also seemed to spend most of their time in pine trees, often clinging to the trunks and large limbs, something I didn't see any other species of honeyeater do.

Extract from his book (copyright Lloyd Neilsen)

Springvale Road showing typical habitat



Adult and juvenile in typical 'pine trunk' pose

They have gone on my list as Yellow-tinted as I really can't see them being Fuscous but I stand to be corrected by anyone who knows better. I can't quite understand why a simple DNA test couldn't resolve the puzzle. A job for an enterprising Aussie birder maybe...?


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