Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum)
The mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum), also known as the mistletoe flowerpecker, is a species of flowerpecker native to most of Australia (though absent from Tasmania and the driest desert areas) and also to the eastern Maluku Islands of Indonesia in the Arafura Sea between Australia and New Guinea. The mistletoebird eats mainly the berries of the parasitic mistletoe and has adapted its digestive system to help spread the mistletoe seeds.
The mistletoebird is a mistletoe feeding specialist and mistletoe feeding specialists have evolved independently in eight of the world's avian families. This extreme dietary specialization has evolved in non-passerine as well as sub-oscine and oscine passerines. Early scientific research had the mistletoe and mistletoebird mutually co-evolving with a high dependence on each other through their evolutionary development. 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.
The mistletoebird derives its name from the name of the swallow (Hirundo) and refers to its long and pointed swallow-like wings.
Mistletoebirds are nomadic where movement is generally local and is associated with the fruiting of mistletoe. Mistletoebirds mostly occur in forests and woodlands dominated by any species of Eucalyptus from the dry interior to the coastal rain forests, but they do not frequent high altitude areas in winter as they adopt a torpid state when cold. Mistletoebirds are more likely to occur in mature stands where trees are larger and more likely to have become infested with mistletoe, rather than in regenerated areas. There are over 1300 species of mistletoe around the world and about one hundred in Australia where a common variety in the dryer climates is the grey mistletoe (Amyema quandang). All mistletoe share a common growth form where water and nutrients are obtained from their host tree via a specialized vascular attachment, but as mistletoe manufacture their own carbohydrates using photosynthesis they are referred to as 'half parasitic'. Although common on the mainland of Australia, there are no mistletoes in Tasmania.
The mistletoebird is a specialist frugivore that primarily eats the berries of mistletoes. Foraging time takes up 25% of the mistletoebird’s daytime activities in summer and 29% in winter.
Mistletoebirds conduct elaborate courtship and nuptial displays where, with a horizontal body, the male sways from side to side fluttering its wings, flicking its tail and displaying flashes of red. The female flies to a nearby branch where she flutters her wings. The male flies to her, mates and immediately they depart together. Mistletoebird pairs nest solitarily and raise up to 3 broods per season. The breeding season is from August to April depending where in Australia, but usually coincides with the fruiting of mistletoe. The nest can be found in many different plants but especially in eucalyptus, mistletoe, and acacia trees where it is suspended from an outer twig or thin horizontal branch and concealed among foliage. The nest is pear shaped with a slit side entrance and is usually made of plant down, wool, spider webs and spider egg sacs.
Adelaide HillsAustralian nativeBirdCharleston Conservation ParkFaunaMistletoebirdJames Rolevink, from