Fifteen critically endangered Helmeted Honeyeaters will be released into the wild today as efforts by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Healesville Sanctuary continue to save the bird from extinction.
The release will boost the numbers to an estimated 100 in the wild at just two sites; Bunyip State Park, 20km south-east of Gembrook and Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve, 18km south of Healesville. This is the first time Helmeted Honeyeaters have been released in this section of Bunyip State Park. The park was burnt by the Black Saturday fires however, wild birds moved into the site once it started to regenerate. They are surviving here with no supplementary feeding that suggests ideal habitat.
The birds were fitted with transmitters, for tracking purposes, and transferred to aviaries at Bunyip State Park earlier this week to allow them to get used to their wild environment without danger of predation, especially from birds of prey. The birds will then be released in two groups, one at 11am on today, 22 March and the other soon after. All released birds are also leg banded making it easier to track them.
The wild population is supported by DSE, Healesville Sanctuary, Parks Victoria and volunteer groups such as Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeater. We work with volunteers to keep a close watch on the birds, including undertaking nest protection works during the breeding season, but the new birds are still vulnerable to natural predators. The release will take the wild population of Victoria's bird emblem to an estimated 100, a stark contrast to many years ago when there was plentiful habitat for the birds from Healesville to South Gippsland. Healesville Sanctuary Director Glen Holland said: "The team at Healesville Sanctuary have learned so much about captive breeding and caring for this secretive little bird since Zoos Victoria first became involved more than 20 years ago. Since then, we have successfully bred 350 Helmeted Honeyeaters for release back to the wild."