This morning I heard a chirp I hadn’t been aware of for some time, not since the bottlebrush in the backyard died. That tree had been the host of one of Australia’s 90 species of mistletoe (70 are native).

Jeremy Coleby-Williams says:

Mistletoes are semi-parasitic. They have chlorophyll in their leaves and can therefore manufacture their own food. The only reason they need a host is to provide it with water and support – they use the host as a root system.

The fruit are generally brightly coloured and the flesh is sweet and tasty. Each fruit has one large seed and is covered with a sticky coat. Birds enjoy the fruit but have to wipe the seed, either off their beaks or bottoms, onto a branch after feeding. The seed then rapidly germinates, sending a root into the host plant plumbing itself into the sap flow for life.

Mistletoe flower (Muellerina eucalyptoides); photo by John Tann, Wikimedia Commons

Before I could take a photo, the bird flitted away, joining another one, but in the binoculars it was undoubtedly a male mistletoe bird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), one of the flowerpeckers.

Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum); photo by Lip Kee, Wikimedia Commons

The mistletoebird eats mostly mistletoe flowers, but also nectar, spiders, insects, mites, millipedes and centipedes. After the mistletoe seed passes through the bird’s digestive system quickly (4 to 25 minutes), it is deposited on a branch in a sticky substance so that it clings on and is able to sprout into another mistletoe.

Wikipedia says:

The mistletoebird is a mistletoe feeding specialist … As the mistletoe has been in Australia for a long time and mistletoebirds for a relatively short time, the mistletoe seed was distributed originally by non-specialized frugivore birds like the honeyeater. Even though the mistletoebird has evolved into a very efficient local distributor of mistletoe seeds, the mistletoebird needs the mistletoe but the mistletoe does not need the mistletoebird.

A couple of eastern whipbirds (Psophodes olivaceus) faced off in the backyard this morning, too – judging by the flashing of the crests, it could have been males establishing territory. Certainly, males and females have been calling and responding for the last couple of weeks. The three-note call seems to come from one bird, but the two-note call at the end is actually the female’s response.

Eastern whipbird; photo by Greg Miles, Wikimedia Commons

Down at Ballina, we saw a pair of pied oystercatchers (Haematopus longirostris) see off a pair of sooty oystercatchers (Haematopus fuliginosus) on the rocks.

Pied oystercatcher; photo by Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons

Sooty oystercatcher; photo by Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons

Along with the 2-metre python and a maned wood duck mother and chicks on the road yesterday (all successfully avoided), these signs surely show that spring has arrived with great enthusiasm.

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6 Responses to Mistletoebird

  1. janebeau says:

    The UK mistletoe isn’t half as pretty as your illustration!

    We too have black oystercatchers – were quite rare and dying out but a preservation/protection programme has worked and numbers are rising. There’s even a walking trail named after them. We see them often on the beach/rocks near my son’s holiday home in the Southern Cape.

  2. Betty Jacobs says:

    You are certainly seeing a lot of interesting wildlife this spring. How fabulous! Thanks for your posts.

  3. Roz says:

    Mistletoe birds, they used to be in my area, until council and railways cleared up the scrub and took all the mistletoe out!

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