Victoria's critically endangered helmeted honeyeater taught stranger danger

The helmeted honeyeater is Victoria's state bird. Sadly, the population of this brightly coloured little bird with its distinctive yellow crest or 'helmet' declined through the 1900s, and in spite of conservation efforts there are now less than 140 in the wild.

As part of a continuing recovery program that began in 1989, bird keepers at Healesville Sanctuary have been breeding helmeted honeyeaters in captivity and releasing them into the wild.

The world outside the protection of the sanctuary is fraught with peril for captive-bred birds, and two years ago only 45% survived their first year in the wild. That was, until the staff at Healesville Sanctuary began training the tiny birds to recognise and flee from predators.

As part of the training program, Sanctuary staff introduce a captive goshawk to the honeyeaters while making a lot of noise and playing the helmeted honeyeater alarm call. This is repeated, so that the birds learn to fly away and take cover whenever they see one of these predators.

Since they started the training two years ago, the percentage of helmeted honeyeaters surviving their first year after being released into the wild has risen to 90%.