White-gaped Honeyeater

brown bird with beak open
White-gaped Honeyeater showing the origin of its name

I mentioned the White-gaped Honeyeater, Lichenostomus unicolor, in my previous post and then realised that I had never uploaded a photo of it – which is a bit odd, since the species is the most common resident, year round, of my garden. On the other hand, they do flit around inside the trees and shrubs in a way which makes a good photo quite difficult.

They are basically dull brown with olive green wing flashes, but that description fits a dozen other species equally well so they are named for the distinctive whitish marking at the angle of the beak; it shows up as a pac-man when the beak is open, as in my photo above, and as a spot with the beak closed.

brown bird
White-gaped Honeyeater in poplar gum

Their range extends all the way across the Top End to Broome but only a little South of Townsville (to the Burdekin) according to Slater’s Field Guide, which introduces the extended family thus:

Honeyeaters are nectar-feeding birds with long brush-tipped tongues; bills are curved, often long, reflecting to some extent the sorts of flowers they frequent. … As well as nectar they feed extensively on insects and other invertebrates and some eat fruit as well.

We would expect, then, that they have long slender tongues capable of reaching deep into  flowers for their nectar and (in what I admit is another reason for posting about them just now) I can now show that this is true. A few days ago I fluked a photo of a White-gaped Honeyeater with its tongue out:

brown bird with tongue out
White-gaped Honeyeater showing its tongue

My Friendly Local Expert confirmed that we were indeed seeing its tongue, not a large spiny insect on its way down the bird’s throat, and suggested that the white fluff may be a fragment of blossom.

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