The Noisy Minor – Underappreciated socialites

While Australia tends to be known for its outrageously coloured parrots and raucous cockatoos, one could equally make a case for this continent being a land of honeyeaters, with over 70 Australian species from this family, the Meliphagidae. The Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala) is one of the best-known, with large colonies of these birds becoming increasingly common in urban and semi-urban areas throughout south-east Australia thanks to an ability to readily adapt to surburban landscapes, taking advantage of freely available food at cafés through to year-round nectar supplies found in backyard gardens.

Noisy Miners, not to be confused with the introduced Indian or Common Mynah (Acridotheres tristis), got their name from early settlers who thought the dark feathers around their face made them look like they'd just returned from a coal mine.

There is a dark side to their social behaviour however, in that by cooperating they are able to aggressively exclude other birds from areas occupied by their colonies, leading to reductions in avian biodiversity in areas that they occupy. Despite this, these highly cooperative birds provide a fascinating insight into the benefits of social living, with experiments conducted at UNE helping to uncover some of the mechanisms that help miner societies stick together, such as an incredibly complex vocal repertoire that enables birds to signal their identity, as well as the type of predator in an area.