Backyard Beauties: The Grevillea Grab

Posted on Posted in Backyard, feathered, South Australia

Thanks to Gavin in Adelaide for sending in this backyard beauty. Gavin is an avid native gardener and keen observer of the wildlife that comes to visit his plantings. If you have backyard beauty you would like to share please drop us a line: contact@beforeitsgone.com.au

 

The delicious nectar from a Grevillea stand immediately in front of our house is being hotly contested by the resident honeyeaters. A grab for exclusive pecking rights is underway.

 

The hybrid Grevillea “Robyn Gordon”, is a chance progeny of the Queensland species, Grevillea banksii and the Western Australian species, Grevillea bipinnatifida (apparently reflecting a highly ordered and alphabetically arranged native garden). It grows particularly well in many climatic settings, including mediterranean Adelaide. We established a stand of five plants about 10 years ago, resulting in an abundance of blooms throughout the year.

 

New Holland Honeyeaters (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) were quick to locate the Grevilleas and ubiquitous in the early years. Up to ten birds could be present, particularly in the morning, displaying agility and advanced aerobatics to find just the right position to reach the yummy nectar. From our ringside view the honeyeaters appeared highly active, nimble and tended not to linger during feeding.

 

A New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae) at work in the hybrid Grevillea “Robyn Gordon” (Photo by G Springbett)

 

Other nectar consumers showed negligible interest in the Grevilleas until the last 2-3 years, when the occasional Little (‘Brush’) Wattlebird (Anthochaera chrysoptera) was observed. The Wattlebirds were clearly enamoured with their new discovery and its available riches and soon become regulars. Less frenetic in their feeding than the New Holland Honeyeaters they appear to savour the experience somewhat, although maintaining an alert state. Also, while considerably larger than the original residents, the Wattlebirds are no slouch in the aerobatics department.

 

The Little (‘Brush’) Wattlebird (Anthochaera chrysoptera) pausing between nectar recovery operations (Photo by G Springbett)

 

Although latecomers, the Little Wattlebirds are now dominant in the Grevilleas and appear to have established exclusive grazing rights at preferred feeding times. In contrast, the New Holland Honeyeaters are rarely sighted and when present visit in small numbers at “off-peak” times. While no specific interaction of the skirmishes between species was observed, the Wattlebirds have clearly appropriated the “Robyn Gordon” patch.

 

The marked change in species over time probably reflects the more aggressive and protective nature of the Wattlebirds and is supported by the widespread presence of New Holland Honeyeaters elsewhere within the garden. Additionally, the hybrid Grevilleas with large flowers, forming predominately outside the plant profile, are readily amenable to nectar extraction by the bigger Wattlebirds while providing limited cover for the Honeyeaters. Our selection of the hybrid “Robyn Gordon”, has therefore most likely exacerbated the species drift once both groups discovered and desired the luscious Grevillea nectar.

 

Fortunately the New Holland Honeyeaters have been quite adaptable and now source new and exotic cuisine elsewhere from our garden, ranging from kangaroo paw nectar to assorted offerings from smaller non-indigenous flowering plants.

 

To further explore the nature of the “Grevillea Grab” and provide alternate sources of delectable nectar, a new strand of smaller local Grevillea plants is being developed within the garden. In these specimens nectar extraction would be optimised by species possessing more delicate beaks/tongues and the less accessible flowers will provide increased protection for timid visitors.

Investigations at our Research Facility (Front Yard Division) are ongoing and updates will follow.

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