Yellow-faced honeyeater

Yellow-faced honeyeater
Caligavis chrysops - Lake Parramatta Reserve.jpg
Scientific classification edit
C. chrysops
Binomial name
Caligavis chrysops
(Latham, 1801)
Yellow-faced honeyeater natural range
subsp. barroni olive
subsp. chrysops green
subsp. samueli blue
  • Sylvia chrysops Latham, 1801
  • Lichenostomus chrysops (Latham, 1802)
  • Melithreptus gilvicapillus Vieillot, 1817
  • Ptilotis trivirgata G.R. Gray, 1869

The yellow-faced honeyeater (Caligavis chrysops) is a small to medium-sized bird in the honeyeater family, Meliphagidae. It takes both its common name and scientific name from the distinctive yellow stripes on the sides of its head. Its loud clear call often begins twenty or thirty minutes before dawn. It is widespread across eastern and south eastern Australia, in open sclerophyll forests from coastal dunes to high-altitude subalpine areas, and woodlands along creeks and rivers. Comparatively short-billed for a honeyeater, it is thought to have adapted to a diet of flies, spiders and beetles, as well as nectar and pollen from the flowers of plants such as Banksia and Grevillea, and soft fruits. It catches insects in flight as well as gleaning them from the foliage of trees and shrubs.

Some yellow-faced honeyeaters are sedentary, but hundreds of thousands migrate northwards between March and May to spend the winter in southern Queensland and return in July and August to breed in southern New South Wales and Victoria. They form socially monogamous pairs and lay two or three eggs in a delicate cup-shaped nest. The success rate can be low, and the pairs nest several times during the breeding season.

Honeyeaters' preferred woodland habitat is vulnerable to the effects of land clearing, grazing, and weeds. As it is common and widespread, the yellow-faced honeyeater is considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to be of least concern for conservation. It is considered a pest in orchards in some areas.


The yellow-faced honeyeater was first described, and placed in the genus Sylvia, by ornithologist John Latham in his 1801 work Supplementum Indicis Ornithologici, sive Systematis Ornithologiae.[2][3] French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot described it as Melithreptus gilvicapillus in 1817, and English zoologist George Robert Gray as Ptilotis trivirgata in 1869.[4] The specific name chrysops is derived from the Ancient Greek words " Chrysos" meaning "gold" and " Prosopo" meaning "face", in reference to the stripe of yellow feathers.[5]

The yellow-faced honeyeater was classified in the genera Meliphaga and then Lichenostomus until 2011.[4] Delineating the latter genus had been systematically contentious, and evaluations of relationships among honeyeaters in the genus using dense taxon and nucleotide sampling confirmed previous findings that Lichenostomus is not monophyletic.[6] Five species have previously been described as comprising the Caligavis subgroup, but studies using the mitochondrial DNA identified the yellow-faced honeyeater as most closely related to the black-throated honeyeater (C. subfrenatus) and the obscure honeyeater (C. obscurus) of New Guinea; they were therefore grouped into the genus Caligavis. The bridled honeyeater (B. frenatus) and the Eungella honeyeater (B. hindwoodi) were sufficiently different to be placed in a separate genus as Bolemoreus.[7] A 2017 genetic study using both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found the ancestor of the yellow-faced honeyeater diverged from the common ancestor of the other two Caligavis species around seven million years ago.[8]

There are three subspecies, two described by Gregory Mathews in 1912.[9][10] There are only very slight differences between the nominate race and C. c. samueli found in the Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia and C. c. barroni from Clarke Range and the Atherton Tableland in Queensland. The latter race is described as "poorly differentiated" and "possibly not worthy of recognition" by the Handbook of the Birds of the World.[11]

Surgeon-General to the First Fleet John White caught a specimen in May 1788, calling it a yellow-faced flycatcher in his Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, which was published in 1790.[12] Latham called it the black-cheeked warbler.[2] John Gould called it the yellow-faced honeyeater in 1848,[13] which has become its official name. It is also known as the yellow-gaped honeyeater, or the quitchup, in reference to its call.[14]

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