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      girraween > animals > birds > small

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Manorina melanophrys
Bell Miner, Bellbird

Conservation status: Least Concern

Bell Miners are common in the coastal and mountain regions of southeast Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The species is a recent new-comer to Girraween National Park. The first official sightings were in April 2017.

Scientific Classification
The Bell Miner is the smallest of the four species of Miner birds found in Australia, growing to about 20cm in length. Both male and female Bell Miners are olive green in colour with a distinctive red-orange patch of bare skin around the eyes, a yellow beak and orange-yellow legs and feet. Juveniles are duller with a pale eye-patch. Their call is a pleasant musical "tink" which sounds like a small metal bell ringing - thus their common names of "Bell" Miner and "Bellbird". They are more often heard than seen because they feed high up in the tree canopy where their colouring acts as excellent camouflage.

They are extremely social birds, living in groups of up to 300 individuals. Breeding pairs usually mate for life. The female builds a thin, cup-shaped nest of grass, twigs and bark and decorates it with bits of lichen and leaves. In it she might lay up to three eggs, which she also incubates by herself. Both parents engage in feeding the young and they are always helped by up to twenty other birds of the same group. All these helpers are closely related to the male of the breeding pair and are usually young or unpaired birds but sometimes they include other breeding pairs that are simultaneously rearing their own young. The helpers defend and clean the nest, feed the young, and sometime feed the female when she is incubating the eggs. Young Bell Miners leave the nest about twelve days after hatching, but their parents and helpers will continue to feed them for a further ten weeks.

The main bulk of a Bell Miner's diet are insects known as psyllids, their nymphs, lerps, and other psyllid secretions. A lerp is a protective cover for the psyllid larvae made up of crystallized honeydew. To a lesser extent, the Miners also eat other insects, nectar and manna - which is a sweet substance that some plants exude after insect attack. Breeding pairs each have their own feeding range which overlaps with those of non-breeding members of the group.

Bell Miners are territorial and will aggressively defend their territories against predators and other birds that might compete for their food supply. There is a theory that Bell Miners "farm" the psyllids for their lerps. Not only do they protect the insects by chasing away other bird species that would eat them, but the Miners have been observed to carefully consume only the lerp, leaving the insect larva beneath uninjured so it can go on to produce another lerp. There is a high correlation with Bell Miner presence and Eucalyptus dieback and one as yet unproven theory is that the monopolising and/or farming of psyllids by Bell Miners allows psyllid numbers to build up, eventually leading to tree sickness and possibly death.


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Last updated: 28th June 2017