What is a honeycreeper?

June 17, 2015, 12:01 p.m.
honeycreeper

A honeycreeper is a small tropical bird that seeks out sweet things in the forest. But it's not honey the birds go after. Instead, it is nectar. Why then are they called honeycreepers?

"The true honeycreepers were so named in recognition of their dependence upon nectar, a specialised feeding habit that is obvious from their thin, decurved, pointed bills," reports The Guardian. Nectar is sweet like honey, nectar is used to make honey, and honeycreeper sounds more cool than nectarcreeper. So, there we have it.

Not only do they have a somewhat slightly misleading name, but they also have a bit of a confusing geneology. All "true honeycreepers" are in the tanager family, but the several different species fall in three different genera. The green honeycreeper featured in this photo is of the Chlorophanes genus, while another species falls under Iridophanes and four more species fall under Cyanerpes. And finally, the Hawaiian honeycreepers are flitting in an altogether different family tree.

One more thing to clear up about honeycreepers is a common misconception about the color of their eggs. Back in 1899, Adolph Nehrkorn published an egg catalog which claimed that honeycreepers lay black eggs. A black egg would certainly be an unusual color for any bird species. Folks went along with the idea until the 1940s when science finally revealed that, nope, no honeycreeper species actually lay black eggs. They're pale and speckled like most bird eggs.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.