Regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia) - critically endangered species listing

The Scientific Committee, established by the Threatened Species Conservation Act, has made a Final Determination to list the Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia (Shaw, 1794) as a CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SPECIES in Part 1 of Schedule 1A of the Act, and as a consequence, to omit reference to the Regent Honeyeater Xanthomyza phrygia (Shaw, 1794) from Part 1 of Schedule 1 (Endangered species) of the Act. Listing of Critically Endangered species is provided for by Part 2 of the Act.

NSW Scientific Committee - final determination

The Scientific Committee has found that:

1. The Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia (Shaw 1794) (family Meliphagidae), formerly known as Xanthomyza phrygia, is a medium-sized bird (22 cm in length), with black foreparts, mottled black and white underparts, and scalloped black and yellow upperparts. The wings and tail are edged and tipped yellow. There is a bare yellow to pink area of warty skin around the eyes. The species is larger and more spangled and scalloped than other yellow-winged honeyeaters, and has a complete black hood and yellow flashes on the wing tips.

2. The Regent Honeyeater previously occurred from south-east South Australia to south-east Queensland (Anon. 2003). The species is now absent from South Australia, it’s distribution in Victoria has contracted to the north-east (Chiltern) where it is considered almost extinct (Olsen et al. 2005), and it is now rare and sporadic in extreme south-east Queensland. Within NSW, breeding sub-populations are fragmented and now occur mainly around the Capertee Valley in central-eastern NSW and the Bundarra-Barraba region in northern inland NSW. Minor and sporadic breeding occurs in other areas such as Warrumbungle National Park, Pilliga forests, Mudgee-Wollar region, and the Hunter and Clarence Valleys.

3. The Regent Honeyeater inhabits eucalypt open forests and woodlands, predominantly box-ironbark types, but also Spotted Gum and Swamp Mahogany on the coast. The species also inhabits River She-oak gallery forest with Amyema cambagei (Needle-leaf Mistletoe).

4. The Regent Honeyeater builds a cup-shaped nest of fibres located in forks in live eucalypt (including Angophora) or she-oak canopy. A clutch of two or three eggs is laid from late winter to early summer, with multiple attempts per season. The incubation period is 14 days, nestling period 16 days and post-fledging dependence period is three to four weeks. The species experiences a high rate of breeding failure, which is typical of open-nesting passerines in woodland, mainly through nest predation (e.g. by the Pied Currawong, Strepera graculina). Individuals may breed in more than one location within a year, or the species may not breed at all in some locations in some years. Generation length (IUCN 2008) is estimated at five years (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

5. The Regent Honeyeater mostly feeds on nectar from flowering eucalypts, especially boxes and ironbarks, and from Amyema cambagei. They also feed on the sugary exudates of insects (e.g. lerps) which become an important part of their diet when breeding.

6. Over the last decade, the Regent Honeyeater has undergone a population reduction and continuing decline, with the apparent loss of some of its minor breeding populations (e.g. Warrumbungle National Park, Pilliga forests), as well as declines at its two major breeding sites; Capertee Valley and Bundarra-Barraba. In 1997 the global population of Regent Honeyeaters was estimated as 1 500 mature birds, with 1 000 shared between the Capertee Valley and Bundarra-Barraba breeding sites; however numbers have since declined (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The Capertee Valley population declined from around 140 birds in spring 2005 to 40 birds in spring 2006 (Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team data; NSW Field Ornithologists Club data) and in 2007, no breeding was detected (D. Geering unpubl data; C. Probets pers. comm. June 2008; S. Debus pers. comm. 2009). In autumn 2008, about 40 birds reappeared in the Capertee Valley and persisted until August (D. Geering pers. comm.). The apparent decline in the Capertee Valley, from hundreds in the mid 1990s to tens in 2008, represents a decline in index of abundance of more than 80% in three generations (15 years) (S. Debus 2008), although the influence of greater dispersal due to failed eucalypt flowering combined with variable survey effort may have contributed to this apparent decline (D. Geering in litt. 2010). In the Bundarra-Barraba area, numbers have apparently declined from around 100 in the 1990s, to 50 birds in subsequent breeding seasons, and about 30 birds in recent years (Williams undated Bundarra-Barraba Ops Group data). In 2007 there was no eucalypt flowering and no Regent Honeyeaters could be found in the Bundarra-Barraba region and northwards to Inverell-Ashford (S. Debus pers. comm. 2009).

7. Since 2000, only very small numbers (fewer than 10 birds) of Regent Honeyeaters have been reported for each of the minor Regent Honeyeater sites in NSW, apart from the lower Hunter and Central Coast, where tens of birds are still sometimes reported. Some pairs bred in the lower Hunter Valley (Cessnock area). In spring-summer 2007 (NSW Field Ornithologists Club data; A. Morris pers. comm. July 2008) and in August 2008 there were five to 10 birds on the Central Coast (A. Morris pers. comm. August 2008).

8. Populations of Regent Honeyeaters at particular locations fluctuate greatly between years and sites, according to seasonal conditions (Garnett & Crowley 2000). In one part of the major Bundarra-Barraba breeding area, this fluctuation has been more than tenfold over the last few years, from around 50 birds breeding in good years to no birds found in poor years (Williams undated Barraba Ops Group data). Similar fluctuations occur in the other key breeding population (Capertee), from around 100 birds in good years to fewer than 10 found in poor years. It is estimated that the NSW population of Regent Honeyeaters may now be fewer than 250 mature individuals.

9. The global extent of occurrence (EOO) of the Regent Honeyeater was estimated as 300 000 km2 in 2000, with a high level of confidence, with about 70% of its distribution falling in NSW. The global area of occupancy (AOO) of the species was estimated as 250 km2 in 2000, with a low level of confidence; most of this area (about 80%) would fall in NSW. Both EOO and AOO were assessed as decreasing, with a medium level of confidence (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The species’ EOO in NSW would therefore be less than 210 000 km2, and AOO less than 200 km2.

10. Historically, the main threat to Regent Honeyeaters was clearing for agriculture in the sheep-wheat belt, with about 75% of habitat containing the species’ favoured vegetation types now cleared (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Even though broad scale clearing has mostly ceased, Regent Honeyeater habitat is continuing to be degraded. Much valuable habitat (Mugga Ironbark-box communities) remains in Travelling Stock Routes and reserves which in the future may become freehold lands. The preferred richer habitat types on creek or river flats and foothills have been targeted for agricultural clearing, and much remnant habitat is degraded by logging, grazing and decline in tree health (rural eucalypt dieback). Habitat alteration may also lead to the proliferation of Noisy Miners (Manorina melanocephala) which can disadvantage species such as the Regent Honeyeater.

11. The Regent Honeyeater’s habitat is severely fragmented. However, the species is capable of dispersing more than 530 km (based on sightings of colour-banded individuals at known breeding areas, Geering 2004; 2006) and can therefore move between remnants. A major current threat to the species is the loss or failure (e.g. non-flowering in particular years) of key sites, or ‘stepping-stones’ in the chain of productive habitat in the honeyeater’s annual cycle of movement (Geering 2004; 2006). Different sites are used by the birds in different years, presumably depending on food availability at favoured sites. The location of these key sites is poorly known. ‘Clearing of native vegetation’ is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. Droughts, and consequent failure of the Regent Honeyeaters food resources (i.e. flowering eucalypts), are likely to become more frequent with climate change. ‘Anthropogenic Climate Change’ is listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

12. Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia is listed as an Endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

13. The Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia (Shaw, 1794) is eligible to be listed as a Critically Endangered species as, in the opinion of the Scientific Committee, it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in New South Wales in the immediate future as determined in accordance with the following criteria as prescribed by the Threatened Species Conservation Regulation 2010:

Clause 6

The species has undergone, is observed, estimated, inferred or reasonably suspected to have undergone or is likely to undergo within a time frame appropriate to the life cycle and habitat characteristics of the taxon:

(a) a very large reduction in population size,

based on either of the key indicators:

(a) an index of abundance appropriate to the taxon, or

(b) geographic distribution, habitat quality or diversity, or genetic diversity.

Clause 8

The estimated total number of mature individuals of the species is:

(a) very low,

and either:

(d)a projected or continuing decline is observed, estimated or inferred in either of the key indicators:

(a) an index of abundance appropriate to the taxon, or

(b) geographic distribution, habitat quality or diversity, or genetic diversity;

(e) the following conditions apply:

(i) the population or habitat is observed or inferred to be severely fragmented;

(ii) all or nearly all mature individuals are observed or inferred to occur within a small number of populations or locations,

(iii) extreme fluctuations are observed or inferred to occur in either of the key indicators:

(a) an index of abundance appropriate to the taxon; or

(b) geographic distribution, habitat quality or diversity, or genetic diversity.


Dr Richard Major
Scientific Committee

Proposed Gazettal date: 05/11/10
Exhibition period: 05/11/10 - 21/01/11


Anon (2003) Changing distribution of the Regent Honeyeater. Where the Regents Roam 12, 5

Debus S (2008) Review of Species for the NSW Scientific Committee: Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia. Unpublished report to the NSW Scientific Committee

Garnett S, Crowley G (Eds) (2000) ‘The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.’ (Environment Australia: Canberra)

Geering D (2004) Unravelling movement mysteries. Where the Regents Roam 13, 3-4. (newsletter of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Effort).

Geering D (2006) Knowledge advancements. Where the Regents Roam 16, 1-3. (newsletter of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Effort).

IUCN (2008) ‘Guidelines for using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria. Version 7.0.’ (Standards and Petitions Working Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Biodiversity Assessments Sub-committee: Switzerland). 

NSW Field Ornithologists Club, sighting reports in Birding NSW Newsletter (2003-2008).

Olsen P, Weston M, Tzoros C, Silcocks A (2005) The State of Australia’s Birds 2005: Woodlands and birds. Supplement to Wingspan 15, 32

Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team, sighting reports in Where the Regents Roam (2003-2008) (newsletter of the Regent Honeyeater Recovery Effort).

Williams B (undated) Unpublished reports. Bundarra-Barraba Ops Group data to Regent Honeyeater Recovery Team.