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Mistletoebird - Male

Mistletoebird - Male

Ian Montgomery

So named because it eats almost exclusively mistletoe berries, the mistletoebird is one of the few birds that can consume these toxic fruits without harm. This is the only flowerpecker species in Australia and is a colorful bird easily identified by its bold markings as well as its favorite food.

Common Name:

Mistletoebird, Australian Flowerpecker, Mistletoe Bird, Moonidjidong

Scientific Name:

Dicaeum hirunbdinaceum

Scientific Family:

Dicaeidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Black, pointed, gentle conical shape, very slightly decurved
  • Size: 4 inches long with 7-inch wingspan, short tail, stout body
  • Colors: Black, red, gray, white, blue-black, orange-pink
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Males have glossy blue-black upperparts, including the head, cheeks, wings and tail. The chin, throat and breast are bright, solid red, and the undertail coverts are a slightly paler red. The flanks and abdomen are white with a thick black vertical streak extending from the breast through the abdomen. The underparts may show an uneven gray wash. Females have gray upperparts and whitish-gray underparts that have a blurry central gray-black vertical streak, and the underparts may also show a stronger gray wash on the flanks. The wings are gray-black. The throat is white, and the undertail coverts are a pale red. Eyes, legs and feet are black for both genders, and the extent of the black central streak and the amount of red on the male's chest can vary significantly depending on the subspecies.

    Juvenile birds are similar to adult females but with a paler orange-pink or orange-red bill and paler red on the undertail coverts.

Foods:

Berries, fruit, insects, nectar, pollen, spiders (See: Frugivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These are widespread birds that are endemic to Australia and southeastern Indonesia. Mistletoebirds can adapt to any habitat where mistletoe is abundant, and they typically prefer forests, scrub and savannah regions where they stay high in the leafy canopy. They are less common in the western desert of Australia where mistletoe is not as prevalent. These birds do not generally migrate, but are often nomadic to find the best food supplies, particularly in winter.

Vocalizations:

The short, squeaky call of the mistletoebird is a single, high-pitched note that may be quickly repeated 5-12 times. The speed of the repetitions can vary depending on the bird's excitement or anger. A typical song is three notes and does not sound too differently from a basic call.

Behavior:

These are restless, active birds that are constantly on the move, whether foraging or flying in a swallow-like pattern. They are one of the few bird species that does not have a gizzard, and instead the seeds of the mistletoe berries they consume pass completely through their digestive tract to be expelled in waste. This allows the birds to propagate seeds for new plants, always ensuring there will be an abundant food supply available – the seeds are excreted with a sticky coating and will stick to tree trunks or branches, where they will soon sprout again. In cold weather, these birds may enter a state of torpor to conserve energy.

Reproduction:

The female mistletoebird builds a suspended, pear-shaped nest out of plant down, cobwebs and similar fine, soft material, with a slit in the side as an entrance. The nest is typically suspended 6-15 feet above the ground. The oval-shaped eggs are glossy white and may show a few light specks, and there are 1-4 eggs in a typical brood.

The female parent incubates the eggs for 14-18 days, and both parents feed the altricial young for an additional 14-16 days until they are ready to leave the nest and forage for themselves. Initially the young birds consume almost exclusively insects for the protein that is essential to their healthy growth, but as they mature their diet will become primarily fruit.

Attracting Mistletoebirds:

These birds are common in backyards if mistletoe berries are available, and planting additional mistletoe can help encourage these birds to visit. Minimizing insecticide use is also essential, as the birds use spider silk in their nests and insects are essential for feeding nestlings.

Conservation:

These birds are common and have a large, varied range, so they are not considered threatened or endangered in any way. They are also adaptable to use different food supplies as needed, but destruction or removal of large areas of mistletoe – which is frequently considered parasitic – can be detrimental to local mistletoebird populations.

Similar Birds:

  • Crimson-Breasted Flowerpecker (Dicaeum percussum)
  • Scarlet Honeyeater (Myzomela sanguinolenta)
  • Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
  • Red-Capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii)
  • Scarlet-Breasted Flowerpecker (Prionochilus thoracicus)
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Photo – Mistletoebirds – Male and Female © Ian Montgomery, birdway.com.au

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