The Crescent Honeyeater (Phylidonyris pyrrhopterus) is a passerine bird of the honeyeater family Meliphagidae native to eastern Australia and Tasmania. A member of the genus Phylidonyris, it is most closely related to the common New Holland Honeyeater (P. novaehollandiae) and the White-cheeked Honeyeater (P. niger). Two subspecies are recognised. It is a fairly nondescript bird of dark grey plumage with a yellow wing patch and paler underparts. The species does exhibit sexual dimorphism as the female is duller in colour. Found in dense forest and alpine habitats, as well as heathland, parks and gardens, its diet is made up of nectar and invertebrates.
The Crescent Honeyeater was originally described by ornithologist John Latham in 1802 as Certhia pyrrhoptera. The specific epithet is derived from the Ancient Greek stems pyrrhos 'fire' and pteron 'wing'. It was also named Certhia australasiana by George Shaw in 1812, Melithreptus melanoleucus by Vieillot in 1817, and Meliphaga inornata by John Gould in 1838.
Some guidebooks have the binomial name written as Phylidonyris pyrrhoptera; however, a review in 2001 rules that the genus name was masculine, hence pyrrhopterus is the correct specific name.
Two subspecies are recognised, the nominate form pyrrhopterus, and halmaturinus from Kangaroo Island.
A recent molecular study showed its close relatives to be the New Holland Honeyeater and the White-cheeked Honeyeater, the three forming the now small genus Phylidonyris. DNA analysis has shown honeyeaters to be related to the Pardalotidae (pardalotes), Acanthizidae (Australian warblers, scrubwrens, thornbills, etc.), and Maluridae (Australian fairy-wrens) in a large Meliphagoidea superfamily.
A Male Crescent Honeyeater in Tasmania, Australia
The Crescent Honeyeater measures 14-17 cm (6-7 in) in length and weighs about 16 g (0.56 oz). It is sexually dimorphic. The male is dark grey with clear yellow wing-patches with a broad, black crescent, outlined in white, down the sides of its breast, and a white streak above his eye. The underparts are pale brown to white, with white markings under the tail. The female is duller, olive brown with faded yellow wing patches with similar, though less clear crescentic markings. Both sexes have a long, down-curved bill and a deep ruby eye. Young birds are similar to the adults, though not as strongly marked. Male nestlings are able to be distinguished by their more extensive yellow wing patches from 7 days old.
The call is a very clear "e-gypt"?. The male also has a melodic song.
Distribution and habitat
The Crescent Honeyeater occurs in south-eastern Australia. It is widespread in Tasmania, except in the north-east part of the state where it is more sparsely distributed. Preferred habitats include coastal heath, rainforest, wet sclerophyll forest, mountain forest, alpine woodland, damp gullies and thick tea-tree scrub. In autumn and winter the species migrates to the lowlands and it is not unusual to see it in urban parks and gardens on the southern coast of Tasmania.
Crescent Honeyeaters will pair up in long-term relationships that often last for the whole year. They live in their territory and each take care of sex-related tasks. It is the male's job to protect the territory, which is used both for foraging and breeding. During the breeding season he will be more active in protecting the area, and therefore a lot more vocal. The female builds the nest near water, low in the shrubs. It is a deep, cup-shaped, bulky nest built out of cobweb, bark, grass, twigs, roots and other plant materials. She lines it with grass, down, moss and fur. The female also incubates and broods the eggs, but both sexes feed the nestlings and remove fecal sacs. Flies made up much of the regurgitated material in one study. They keep feeding the fledglings up to two weeks after they leave the nest. They also often stay committed to one breeding site for several years. The breeding season may take place from July to March. The clutch size is 2-3, occasionally 4. Measuring 19 x 15 mm, the eggs are pale pink, sometimes buff-tinged, with lavender and chestnut splotches. The base colour is darker at the larger end. The incubation period is 13 days followed by a fledging period of 13 days.
Food includes nectar, fruits and small insects. Plants it has been recorded visiting include Banksia ericifolia and B. spinulosa. The birds forage in understorey shrubs, often in pairs. A study in forest near Hobart in Tasmania found that its diet was wholly composed of insects during breeding season, but nectar was a significant component during winter.