Great Birding Moments #3 – Mistletoebird
One of the most delightful little birds we have resident in our garden is the Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum) shown in the photo above. It is a member of the flowerpecker family of birds.
I was very pleased to have taken a photo of such a beautiful species. The photo shows a male in all of his colourful splendour. The female is less brightly coloured but still lovely.
It is also a very challenging species to photograph because they often feed high up in the canopy of trees and they tend to dart from tree to tree without settling anywhere for very long. Add to that their small size – about 9 -11 cm in length – and you can see what a challenge it is.
As soon as we moved to this current location – more than 20 years ago – I wondered which species would be the first to breed in trees or bushes we had planted. Would it be the Willie Wagtail? What about one of the honeyeater species, perhaps the White Plumed or the Singing? Maybe it would be a Crested Pigeon. or would it be the dainty Yellow Rumped Thornbill? Wrong on all counts.
First to Breed
It was the Mistletoebird that became the official first species to breed in a tree we had planted. Mind you, other species may have been the first, but managed to keep it secluded from my prying eyes. In all we’ve observed 31 different species in or near our garden either nesting or feeding fledged young. This is out of a total of 111 species recorded over 22 years.
I would have missed this important record too, if it hadn’t been for the keen eyes of our neighbour. The tree in question, a eucalypt only about three metres high and with very little foliage to that point, played host to this pair of Mistletoebirds. The nest was at eye level and had been damaged in a storm. The neighbour had repaired the nest with some old panty-hose stocking material. It did the job and the chicks fledged successfully. The beautiful pear shaped nest was made using small soft twigs, grass, spider’s web and an assortment of other soft natural materials.
Distribution and Habitat
Mistletoebirds are found throughout most of Australia except the very dry regions and those areas lacking trees or shrubs. It can be found in all kinds of eucalypt woodland and forest, rainforests, acacia shrublands and even mangroves. Its preferred habitat is any area that supports the mistletoe species, of which there are many different kinds in Australia. We have a few present on our five acre block. They look for the berries of the mistletoe plant to eat. After the sticky seed has passed through their digestive system – usually in 4 to 25 minutes – they wipe it on to the branch of any handy tree or bush. This seed then sprouts and uses the tree or bush as its host.
Apart from eating the berries of the mistletoe plants this species is also known to eat the fruit of other native and introduced plants. We have many Boxthorn plants on our block (I’m trying to eradicate the beasts) and the Mistletoebird would enjoy its fruit as well. They are also nectar eating and will feed on pollen, spiders and insects to supplement their diet.
- The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (Pizzey and Knight)
- The New Atlas of Australian Birds (Barret et al)
- Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds Vol. 7 (Higgins et al)
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