As their name suggests, honeyeaters are often found near flowering plants feeding on nectar. All of the Honeyeaters have slender, pointed bills with a long, brushlike tongue that is used to sip the nectar. However, there are many variations of the bill shape, depending on the specific diet of each species. Species with longer bills are usually feeding from tubular flowers, while those with shorter bills often feed on the flowers that are more accessible. All honeyeaters supplement their diets to varying degrees with insects and fruit.
A symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship has developed between the honeyeaters and the flowers they use for food. As the honeyeater is feeding on nectar, pollen is placed on the bird's forehead by the stamen. The pollen is then deposited on the stigma of the next flower while feeding. Thus, the bird obtains food while the flower is pollinated.
In addition to the bill, there can be a great variety in the appearance of a honeyeater. Anatomical differences include a wattle, ear-tufts, fleshy helmets, and the length of the tail. Both the male and female are usually drab brown, gray, or green in color. However, there are species in which the male is brightly colored compared to the drab female. Most range in size from 4-18 in (10-46 cm) long, with strong, short legs, an adaptation to the tree-climbing lifestyle.
Placed in the family Meliphagidae, the 169 species of honeyeater are found in Australia, New Guinea, the Celebes, the Moluccas, and other smaller islands of the Western Pacific. Some species were originally found as far east as the Hawaiian Islands, but they have since been driven to extinction by loss ofhabitat and hunting; the feathers were once sought by the native Hawaiians.
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