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  • The Black-eared Miner
    Introduction

    The Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis is classified as Endangered under the Commmonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The Black-eared Miner formerly occurred in the "Murray Mallee" region of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, but is now absent from much of its range. Few birds remain in Victoria, with most colonies now confined to the Bookmark - Gluepot mallee area to the North-East of Waikerie in South Australia. The main reasons for decline are clearing and habitat fragmentation, hybridisation with Yellow-throated Miners, and bushfires. A Recovery Program is under way to conserve the species (but see below).

    Black-eared Miner (c) G ChapmanBlack-eared Miner (c) R Leeds

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    Identification

    The Black-eared Miner is one of four species of colonial and co-operatively breeding honeyeaters in the genus Manorina. The Black-eared Miner has a stocky build, is about 20 cm long and is dark grey above, paler below, with a dark facial mask and orange-yellow bill and legs. The species is most similar in appearance to the Yellow-throated Miner Manorina flavigula, but can be distinguished readily in the field by its much darker rump, lack of pale terminal band on the tail and a greater contrast between the colour of the feathering on the lower jaw and throat.
    A comprehensive Identification Sheet has been developed by Rohan Clarke and the Black-eared Miner Recovery Team, in order to aid observers in distinguishing true Black-eared Miners from Yellow-throated Miners and hybrids.
    Click here to download the Identification Sheet (approx. 1.2MB).Click here for information on birding trips to Gluepot Reserve.



    Please consider acquiring the SA Birding Site Guide. For only AU$9.90 you get detailed information on where to find SA's unique birds.
    Distribution and Habitat

    The Black-eared Miner's current distribution is much reduced with over 95% of presently known colonies occurring in the Bookmark - Gluepot area. The only recent records from NSW are of about five hybrid colonies. In Victoria there are six widely dispersed colonies of hybrid birds. Up until the early 2000's there were over 200 known colonies in SA, all concentrated within the Bookmark - Gluepot area. Following years of drought with poor breeding success, and devastating bushfires in 2006, numbers of miners have declined significantly to the point that most colonies within this area now contain largely hybrids.
    The Black-eared Miner inhabits shallow-sand Mallee and chenopod Mallee, vegetation associations that are dominated by multi-stemmed "mallee" eucalypt species, usually in association with a ground layer dominated by either Spinifex grass, saltbush/bluebush shrubs or twinleaf shrubs. Black-eared Miners occur predominantly in old-growth habitats that have not been burnt for at least 50 years. Within large areas of contiguous mallee in Bookmark - Gluepot, sites with highest quality colonies of Black-eared Miners are more than 5 km from dams and man-made clearings. In contrast, all known Yellow-throated Miner colonies in the same area have been located within 2 km of permanent water and man-made clearings.

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    Life History and Social Organisation

    The Black-eared Miner is colonial, with each colony typically containing several breeding pairs whose nests may be as little as 15 m apart. When breeding, the species is co-operative with up to 12 juvenile and adult non-breeding individuals (helpers) assisting at a nest. Larger colonies contain several well-defined social units. However, the colony still functions as a whole to repel potential predators and other undesirable intruders. Breeding colonies in the Bookmark - Gluepot region contained an average of 18.4 individuals (range 8-40+). (Based on late 1990s data). All colonies in Victoria that have contained Black-eared Miners in recent times have also contained hybrid birds. Surveys during the late 1990s - early 2000s concluded that colony quality in South Australia was much higher with 38% of 87 ranked colonies consisting of exclusively or mainly pure Black-eared Miners.
    When breeding, adults typically forage short distances from the nest. When not breeding birds move as groups over greater distances to forage.
    The Black-eared Miner is monogamous and pairs appear to remain together for life. Breeding males within a colony are close relatives, whereas females, the dispersing sex, are not. Black-eared Miners are opportunistic breeders, breeding only when conditions are suitable. Nests have been found in all months, however breeding typically extends from September to December. Breeding appears to be linked to rainfall events during mild to warm seasons.
    The Black-eared Miner eats mainly invertebrates and lerp, obtained by gleaning and probing decorticating bark, limbs and twigs of eucalypts and gleaning from foliage. Nectar is also taken.

    Decline and Threats

    Black-eared Miners were once considered common or locally common within their mallee habitat prior to 1940. However, there are few recent records in Victoria and NSW. In SA the species was considered nearly extinct by the early-1990s. However, following sightings of hybrid miners in the extensive mallee habitat of the Bookmark area, surveys were conducted in this region in 1996 which resulted in over 80 sightings of miners. Further surveys in the late 199s - early 2000s revealed over 200 colonies within this area. Although many contained hybrids, over a third of colonies contained mainly phenotypically pure Black-eared Miners. However following years of drought with poor breeding success, and devastating bushfires in 2006, numbers of miners have declined significantly to the point that most remaining colonies within this area now contain largely hybrids.
    A major factor in the early decline of the Black-eared Miner is the loss and modification of suitable habitat. In Victoria, the most fertile dunefields that were important to the species have been selectively cleared for wheat production. Conservation reserves in the Victorian Mallee substantially under-represent the vegetation of fertile soils.
    Clearance of vegetation has also favoured a range expansion of the Yellow-throated Miner which prefers open habitat. Once infrequently occurring in open woodland, the Yellow-throated Miner is now abundant and commonly recorded occupying shelter belts and roadside vegetation.
    Black-eared Miners were rapidly eliminated from remant vegetation due to a combination of competition, introgressive hybridisation and/or reduced population viability. Fire has also been of detrimental effect as Black-eared Miners prefer mallee vegetation that has not been burnt for at least 50 years, and habitats of this age possessing suitable structural characteristics are now uncommon throughout the historical distribution area of the Black-eared Miner.

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    Recovery Plan

    During 2000-2004, the recovery effort for the Black-eared Miner effectively defined the species' distribution, critical habitat requirements, social organisation, breeding biology and threats. Essentially only a single viable population of the species remains, facing serious risk of extinction was a large wildfire event to occur and from continued gradual genetic hybridisation with Yellow-throated Miners.
    Fire management plans were developed for many properties concerned. Risk management against fire was managed through maintenance of captive populations of Black-eared Miners, and translocation of colonies directly from the wild into areas of suitable habitat in Victoria. The first 4 trial translocations conducted in late 2000 exceeded all expectations in terms of initial survival, colony cohesion and reproduction at their new sites. The translocation program was maintained for a number of years, while simultaneously removing Yellow-throated Miners from Black-eared Miner colonies and nearby. Artificial watering points (dams) that may encourage / support Yellow-throated Miners (as well as Starlings and feral Goats) within core Black-eared Miner habitat were closed (and where necessary replaced with enclosed tanks for fire fighting purposes).
    Few successful breeding events during the mid-late 2000s drought meant that the translocation program was put on the backburner. Following the 2006 bushfires, miner numbers dropped by 60%. Recent reduction in government funding means that there is no capacity left to adequately conserve the species. It is feared that without further intervention the species may become hybridised out of existence in the wild by 2015.

    Where to find Black-eared Miners

    Black-eared Miners are best observed at Gluepot Reserve, where infrastructure for birders has been established, including a visitor information centre and bird hides at watering throughs. They are not always easy to find, as breeding is related to seasonal conditions and nest sites change. It is recommended to take a guided trip to Gluepot to significantly increase your chances of finding this and other critical species.
    Click here for information on birding trips to Gluepot Reserve.

    Please consider acquiring the SA Birding Site Guide. For only AU$9.90 you get detailed information on where to find SA's unique birds.

    (Adapted from Baker-Gabb, D (2001). Recovery Plan for the Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis 2002-2006: Conservation of old-growth dependent mallee fauna. Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide.)

    Updated with comments by Peter Waanders in 2011.

     

           

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