It’s not often that you come across a bird that has a clean feet obsessive compulsive disorder. At least that is the conclusion we came to after watching White Plumed Honeyeaters drink and bath.
White Plumed Honeyeaters are common throughout a large swathe of Australia. They occur in loose flocks noisily feeding on gum tree nectar and insects; basically normal birds going about normal bird business until it comes to drinking and bathing. That’s when their normal bird behavior takes an interesting twist.
Observing them drinking we realized that they always land on a stick or other perch which provides access down to the water and never land on the ground at the waters edge like other birds. Rather they stretch down to reach the water all the while keeping their feet firmly away from any wet soil or mud. Clearly a Honeyeater with dirty feet is one dirty honeyeater!
But what is really most fascinating to watch and also to try to photograph is their bathing behavior. Flying out to the middle of the water they suddenly dip themselves into the water before rapidly lifting back up and off to a nearby perch. This is repeated a number of times before fully wet they sit and preen. Fortunately their repeated dipping always seems to be in roughly the same spot, so its possible to pre-focus on roughly the same spot of water and then reacting immediately they enter the water. The bathing process takes a fraction of a second, so quick reactions are needed to get the shot. It’s photographic snap shooting that’s exciting and challenging. Plus, it’s an activity that takes place at midday when good birding opportunities are few and far between.
Getting a few in-focus shots of these birds having their daily bath is greatly satisfying; to my mind every bit equal to that of catching a fish eagle in action or Hippos fighting!