Regent Honeyeater study: Impact of zoo-based life experience, health indices and demographics on post-release fitness and survival

Project update

This study that tracked 285 birds released near Chiltern, Victoria, has found that fledglings exposed to the song of wild regent honeyeaters in their aviaries had a 75% chance of surviving, compared to a 63% chance for birds that were not tutored. The research also found that males have greater breeding success if they were raised in aviaries with multiple species, and birds have better chances of survival if they came from parents that produced only one clutch of eggs a year and had mothers that first reproduced at about age one. View the published results.

“Whilst every effort is being taken to optimise the breeding program for Regent Honeyeaters, the main threatening processes i.e., deforestation, habitat fragmentation and predation need to be addressed if the species has the potential to become self-sustaining and have improved conservation outcomes”

- Tripovich et al. (2021)

Taronga has played an important role in the Regent Honeyeater National Recovery Program since 1995 and the ‘breed for release’ component is now a critical component of the National Recovery Plan (2016).

The aim of the project is to identify trends in the relationship between zoo based experiences, health data and characteristics of post-release birds. The first trial release occurred in 2000 at Capertee, NSW, and there have been five subsequent releases in Chiltern-Mt. Pilot National Park, Victoria. In total, 295 birds were released back to the wild.

Releases occur in two stages to enable the review and assessment of bird safety. All releases involve intensive monitoring of released birds by a large group of volunteers, and the post-release monitoring team provides regular updates on the number of Regent Honeyeaters sighted, made up of released and wild birds. The overarching aim is to better understand how husbandry practices influence post-release success, and ultimately breed birds which are fitter release candidates.