The Tasmanian Wattlebird, or commonly known as the Yellow Wattlebird, is endemic (belonging or native to a particular region) to Tasmania and is Australia’s largest honeyeater at 37cm to 50cm in size. A slim bird with a long tail, short strong beak and distinctive yellow/orange wattles (long, pendulous lobes) hanging on the sides of the head. The wattles become larger and brighter during the breeding season. The species has a grey-brown plumage and a head streaked with black/brown and white. On their belly is a bright yellow patch. Yellow Wattlebirds are active and acrobatic with a strong flight. Their ‘voice’ is a loud, harsh and raucous ‘kuk’ or ‘kukuk’. They virtually ‘spit’ out their call as the bird strongly jerks its head back, then forward.
by Carol Haberle
Endemic to Tasmania, the Yellow Wattlebird is widespread in the eastern and central regions of the state, but is rarely found in the west or south-west. It is also found on King Island, Three Hummock and Hunter Islands. It is found in a variety of habitats from sea level to the sub-alpine zone (up to 1350m altitude), and is found in dry and wet forests, woodlands, alpine forests and coastal heaths.
Due to the number of people now growing ‘native’ gardens, the Yellow Wattlebird has today become common in urban parks and gardens, moving in response to the flowering pattern of preferred food trees. Having a native garden myself, these birds are regular visitors and are a delight to watch.
The Yellow Honeyeater feeds mainly on the nectar of native flora, especially eucalypts and banksias. They also eat fruit and insects. They will visit gardens and orchards where they feed on introduced fruits and flowers, mainly eating overripe or fallen fruits. Often they will feed in small flocks, and may be seen feeding with Little Wattlebirds (Anthochaera chrysoptera). The Little Wattlebird, the smallest of the wattlebirds, is the only other wattlebird seen in Tasmania. It is very similar in appearance to the Yellow Wattlebird, but is smaller, does not have the ‘wattles’ and does not have the bright yellow patch on the belly. Little Wattlebirds can also be found throughout south-eastern and south-western mainland Australia. They occur in suitable habitat throughout northern and eastern Tasmania.
Wattlebird Breeding Season: August to January
The Yellow Wattlebird nests in breeding pairs and will very aggressively defend their breeding territories against other birds. Only the female constructs the nest, an open cup-shaped nest of thin twigs, bark and grass which they will line with bark, roots, grass and feathers. Mammal fur and sheep’s wool will also be used to line a nest when available. The nest is built anywhere between 3 metres and 20 metres above the ground, often in an exposed tree fork, but usually in eucalypts.
Both the male and female incubate the eggs, usually two or three, and feed the young. They continue to feed the fledglings for a few weeks. In coastal areas two broods may be raised in the one season, while in central areas usually only one brood is raised. The Yellow Wattlebird is nomadic outside of the breeding season, with autumn–winter flocks moving to lower areas.
One fact, not so widely known, is that the Yellow Wattlebird was once considered a ‘game’ bird. From the early colonial days they were shot for the table, and a short season was opened each year up until the late 1960s. In the early 1970s the Yellow Wattlebird became a protected species due to numbers diminishing.