The spiny-cheeked honeyeater is a resident bird over much of its range, although it is thought to be partly migratory in some areas. Seasonal movements of this species have been linked to the timing of flowering (2). Although it is a resident species, the spiny-cheeked honeyeater is a highly nomadic one, moving fair distances in search of food and water, much like many other Australian desert-dwelling birds (3).
The spiny-cheeked honeyeater is most active and conspicuous when foraging, but it can be somewhat secretive and shy when at rest (5). Throughout most of the year, this species usually occurs singly or in pairs (2) (5), but it is known to occasionally form large feeding flocks in the autumn and winter (5).
The diet of the spiny-cheeked honeyeater consists mainly of fruit, nectar and arthropods, particularly insects and some spiders, although seeds are also taken (2). Mistletoe appears to be a favourite food item of this bird species, with the seeds passing through the gut and germinating on the branch where they are deposited (2) (8). In South Australia, the spiny-cheeked honeyeater is one of the main dispersers of Amyema quandang seeds, and it also pollinates the plant when it feeds from the flower’s nectar (9). The spiny-cheeked honeyeater also occasionally eats small vertebrates, including lizards and nestlings (2), and as its name suggests, it also feeds on honey (4).
The spiny-cheeked honeyeater generally forages in shrubs and trees, but may also forage on the ground or in the air (2), sallying after flying insects at dawn or dusk. This species actively clambers around within vegetation in search of food (5), probing flowers for nectar, and gleaning arthropod prey from leaves and branches (2).
Breeding in the spiny-cheeked honeyeater has been recorded in all months, although egg laying seems to occur at different times depending on the location. In the eastern parts of its range, including Queensland and Victoria, the spiny-cheeked honeyeater lays its eggs between August and March, whereas in Western Australia and the Northern Territory the eggs are laid from mid-July to December (2).
The spiny-cheeked honeyeater builds a neat cup-shaped nest, which although rather delicate-looking is actually quite strong. Suspended among branches, usually a few metres above the ground, the nest is built of leaves, twigs, grass and even spider egg-sacs, and is bound with spider web or wool, before being lined with wool, fur and plant down. A typical spiny-cheeked honeyeater clutch consists of 2 to 3 eggs, which are incubated for a period of 14 to 15 days. The role of the sexes in incubation and brooding is unclear, but both sexes are known to feed the young. The young spiny-cheeked honeyeaters fledge after about 14 to 19 days, and are fed by the adults for at least a further 12 days. Spiny-cheeked honeyeater nests are known to be parasitised by the pallid cuckoo (Cuculus pallidus) (2).