Physical characteristics

Many smaller honeyeaters are olive, green, or brown and often have yellow on the underparts, as an ear patch, or as neck plumes. Several smaller species are black and white. Almost half of the species are notably sexually dichromatic. Some of the larger species are gray, black, dark green, or streaked brown. Some honeyeaters have distinct juvenal plumages, although in many species the differences from adults are subtle.

Most honeyeaters have colored bare skin in the form of a discrete eyepatch, a somewhat swollen gape, elaborate wattles, knobs on the bill, or a bald head. Many of these features change in color or conspicuousness with age, and sometimes there are seasonal changes in relation to breed-

A brown-backed honeyeater (Ramsayornis modestus) at its nest. (Photo by Frithfoto. Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

ing. Bill and legs may also be distinctively colored. The bill ranges from short and straight to slightly decurved to quite long and markedly decurved. All honeyeaters have a brush tongue, which is quadrifid, with numerous bristles at the tip; this morphology is an adaptation to feeding on nectar and other sugary solutions. Digestion of sugary solutions is very rapid, and most sugar is absorbed before watery feces are expelled. Honeyeaters have strong legs and feet and often have sharp claws.

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