Black-eared miner (Manorina melanotis)

Synonyms: Manorina flavigula melanotis
GenusManorina (1)
SizeLength: 23 - 26 cm (2)

The black-eared miner is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of Australia’s rarest passerines (3), the black-eared miner (Manorina melanotis) is easily identified by the yellow patch behind each eye and its extensive black face ‘mask’ (4), which extends from the bill to the ears. The black-eared miner is mid- to dark grey on the upperparts, with yellow-olive edged wing feathers and outer tail feathers. The underparts are greyish-white, with fine mottling on the breast. Both the bill and legs are bold yellow (2) (4) (5).

Male and female black-eared miners are very similar in appearance, while the plumage of the juvenile is browner. The black-eared miner is very similar in appearance to its close relative, the yellow-throated miner (Manorina flavigula), but the yellow-throated miner has a white rump and a white tail tip, as well as significantly longer wings, legs and tail (2) (4).

The call of the black-eared miner is a variety of chattering and harsh notes (2).

The black-eared miner is endemic to Australia, where it is found only in a region known as the ‘Murray Mallee’ of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia (4). The Murray Mallee is predominantly a vast, undulating sandy plain that is bound at the northern and western edges by the Murray River (6).

Semi-arid mallee habitat (eucalypt woodland in which individual trees are multi-stemmed from ground level) is the favoured habitat of the black-eared miner. It typically occurs in mallee that has remained un-burnt for at least 40 years, but may venture into areas un-burnt for up to 10 years to forage (5).

The eucalypts in this habitat are typically five to ten metres tall, with an understory of porcupine grass (Triodia scariosa), shrubs (Chenopodiacae and Zygophyllaceae species) and chenopods (2) (4) (5).

The diet of the black-eared miner consists primarily of invertebrates, which are plucked from foliage and the ground, or found by probing bark. It will also occasionally snatch flying invertebrates from the air and take nectar from Eucalyptus species (4) (5). During breeding, the black-eared miner forages close to the nest, venturing no further than one kilometre, whereas non-breeding birds have been seen as far as two kilometres from the home range (5).

The quiet, shy black-eared miner is a monogamous species that pairs for life. An opportunistic breeder, the black-eared miner can breed at any time of the year under suitable conditions, although this typically occurs between September and December (4) (5). The nest is constructed from grass and sticks, and a clutch of two to four eggs is laid (2). Several breeding pairs, situated around 15 metres apart, nest together in a colony. Each nest is assisted by several ‘helpers’, which are mainly non-breeding adult males and juveniles. Colonies with ideal habitat can have up to an average of 18 individuals, whereas in areas with less than perfect habitat, fewer individuals are present, averaging only 6 (5).

The major cause of the black-eared miner decline is habitat loss and fragmentation. Much of the eucalypt mallee in its former range was cleared for agriculture in the early 20th century by European settlers (2). This habitat alteration has led to the closely related yellow-throated miner (Manorina flavigula), which favours disturbed and cleared habitats,colonising areas within the black-eared miner’s range, and contact between the two species has led to hybridisation. Interbreeding between the two species is currently the greatest threat to the black-eared miner, and there are now thought to be very few ‘pure’ black-eared miner colonies left (2) (4).

Another threat to the black-eared miner is wildfires, which have the potential to rapidly destroy large areas of habitat. Large-scale wildfires are a particular threat to a number of colonies in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve and Murray Sunset National Park. A wildfire in 2006 in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve reduced suitable habitat for the black-eared miner by about a third (2) (4).

Although currently classified as Endangered, the black-eared miner has actually improved in conservations status since 1994 when it was classified as Critically Endangered. This improvement in status is due to the discovery of large populations in the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve and numerous conservation actions (5).

Since 1997, several conservation actions for the black-eared miner have taken place, including purchasing land for reserves, and successfully translocating black-eared miners from South Australia to establish four colonies in Murray-Sunset National Park in Victoria. Efforts have also been made to control hybridisation, by removing or culling certain colonies of yellow-throated miners (5).

Further actions are still underway, including improving knowledge of the black-eared miner’s distribution and abundance, maintaining and enhancing habitat, maintaining captive populations, and continuing translocation efforts (5).

With such an intensive management program in place, it is hoped that numbers of the black-eared miner will increase in the future (5).

Learn more about the black-eared miner:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
  2. BirdLife International (November, 2011)
  3. Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria.
  4. Fitzherbert, K., McLaughlin, J. and Baker-Gabb, D. (2003) Flora & Fauna Guarantee Action Statement: Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria.
  5. Baker-Gabb, D. (2003) Recovery Plan for the Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis 2002-2006: Conservation of Old-growth Dependent Mallee Fauna. Department for Environment and Heritage, Adelaide.
  6. Victoria Department of Primary Industries – Murray Mallee (April, 2011)