There are only around 130 helmeted honeyeaters left in the wild, which means every single bird matters to the future of the species. Zoos Victoria is part of a captive breeding program for these beautiful little birds, and releasing the captive-raised birds into the wild is part of their conservation strategy. But there is a big hurdle they have to overcome before they can be set free.
When you're raised in captivity, there are very few dangers you have to dodge, especially when it comes to predators. To make sure that their captive-raised birds are able to recognize and flee from hawks, the zoo team is teaching the birds about "stranger danger."
"Two years ago we started to teach them about predators before we released them as we found many of them were falling prey to Goshawks because they didn’t recognize them as a danger," said Jacquie O’Brien of Zoos Victoria.
The strategy for teaching the helmeted honeyeaters to avoid hawks is brilliant. The team flies a goshawk in view of the small birds while playing the helmeted honeyeater alarm call. This tells the birds that when they see a hawk, fly away!
Here's a video of how the training strategy works:
The captive breeding and reintroduction program has been going on for about 20 years, so the training program is relatively new. It is yet to be determined if the extra street-smarts schooling will increase the survival rate of the released birds.