honeyeater or honeysucker, common name for arboreal birds comprising some 160 species of the family Meliphagidae, and found in Australia, New Zealand, and the SW Pacific. There is a single South American genus. The plumage tends to be dull, ranging from greenish to grayish brown, with little difference between the sexes. They range in length from 4 to 17 in. (10–42.5 cm). Some species of the genus Myzomelia are more distinctly colored, with contrasting red tones, and these species show sexual dimorphism. Many members of the family have yellow or white ear patches, and one, the parson bird, or New Zealand tui ( Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae ), is marked by two white throat feathers, said to give the appearance of a cleric's bib. The tui is a delightful songster and an excellent mimic. The family also shows a tendency to featherless patches on the face such as seen in the friarbirds and wattlebirds of Australia. Honeyeaters vary greatly in body and bill form, but all have in common a highly specialized, extendable, brushlike tongue, with a horny, pointed tip. This they use to brush up pollen and suck at nectar. Because they feed on pollen and nectar (and the insects attracted to them), honeyeaters are important pollinators. Most are species of the treetops and flowering branches, but several Australian species are adapted to open country. None are solitary. They are gregarious to varying degrees and travel in bands, particularly the helmeted honeyeater, Meliphaga cassidix, of Australia. Nest and nesting habits also vary, but none of the honeyeaters are ground nesters. The number of eggs per clutch ranges from two in the tropical species to four in those of temperate areas. Male participation in rearing also varies, but most help in feeding the young. Honeyeaters are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Meliphagidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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