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Stranger Danger Training for Helmeted Honeyeaters

7 September 2015

Picture this; you’re small, feathery, and very protected in your forest haven at Healesville Sanctuary. But you have a big job ahead of you. You are one of 18 Helmeted Honeyeaters that will shortly head into the wilds of Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve to boost the tiny population of your kind.

You are going to need some special training to help you on your life saving mission. The most important of which is stranger danger.

While there are less than 140 Helmeted Honeyeaters in the wild, the number has steadily increased over the past five years thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Helmeted Honeyeaters and staff at Healesville Sanctuary.

One critical step in helping captive-bred birds survive when they are released into the wild is the need to teach them to recognise and then hide from natural predators such as Goshawks.

Healesville Sanctuary has developed a Predator Avoidance Training Program for the tiny Helmeted Honeyeaters, this training was made possible through the support of the Merrin Foundation.

The program involves introducing the birds to a real Goshawk, also from the Sanctuary's bird family, and then following a number of steps to help them develop a flight response from the Goshawk. This includes keepers making loud noises and playing the sounds of the Helmeted Honeyeater alarm call so that the birds will take cover and form a lasting association of danger when a Goshawk appears or when they hear their species and other species alarm calls in the wild.

Since the program began two years ago the survival rate of Helmeted Honeyeaters released into the wild has increased from 45 per cent to 90 per cent.