Singing for honey eaters helps them flourish

Playing recordings of Regent Honeyeater birdsong to young Honeyeater before they are released into the wild can dramatically improve survival rates of critically endangered species.

This is according to research conducted by the Taronga Conservation Society in collaboration with scientists from UNSW, BirdLife Australia and the Department of the Environment.

There are only about 350 Regent Honeyeater in the wild and the survival of the species depends on rearing the bird in captivity before being released.

One review looked at a decade of data from the Regent Honeyeater breeding program at Taronga Zoo.

The researchers analyzed what contributed to the success of the released birds, including who their parents were, how they were housed in the zoo, and the age and weight of the released birds.

Song Tutoring, by playing recordings of adult birds to young honeyeater, was an effective strategy.

Raising young Regent Honeyeater in aviaries with other species also increased their chances in the long run, allowing them to practice the interactions they would experience in nature, such as competing for food.

The team also found that the birds had a better survival rate if they were born to parents who produced only one brood per year.

For parents who produce more than one brood per year, there has been a significant drop in the long-term chances of their young in the wild.

Report author Joy Tripovich, behavioral biologist at the Taronga Conservation Society, said Taronga’s breeding program had slowed the decline of the Regent Honeyeater.

“Few breeding programs have ever been examined in such depth before and this research will help shape it at this critical time as we fight to save the Regent Honeyeater from extinction,” said Dr Tripovich.

Taronga Conservation and Recovery Programs Director Andrew Elphinstone said zoos are becoming increasingly essential to the survival of critically endangered species.

“With only 350 Regent Honeyeaters in the wild, it’s important that conservation and research experts work together to improve their chances as much as possible.”

Regent Honeyeater have increased from 1,500 in 1992 to current estimates of less than 400 adult birds, largely due to habitat loss and predation.

Since 2008, nearly 300 birds have been bred in zoos and animal parks and released into the wild.

The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science

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