Dicaeum hirundinaceum

Male Mistletoebird

(Mistletoebird)

FAMILY

Dicaeidae

Species

Dicaeum hirundinaceum

Common name(s)

Mistletoebird

Main colour(s)

Males: glossy blue-black head, wings and upperparts, a bright red throat and chest, a white belly with a central dark streak and a bright red undertail

Females: grey above, white below, with a grey streak on the belly, and a paler red undertail

Juveniles: resemble females but are paler and have an orange, rather than dark, bill

Size

9–10 cm long and 7.5–11 g weight

Campus

Orpheus Island Research Station

Description

Dicaeum hirundinaceum, which is the only Australian representative of the flowerpecker family, Dicaeidae, is a large family of colouful specilised birds most commonly found in southeast Asia. There is only one species of mistletoebird found in Australia and it is widely distributed throughout much of mainland Australia (excluding dry areas and Tasmania)

The flowerpeckers are all morphologically similar, being uniformly small, chunky birds with short tails, short legs, short thick bills and tubular tongues adapted to nectar eating, an important part of their diet. Mistletoebirds also consume pollen, insects and spiders, and mainly feed insects to their chicks. In addition to its tubular tongue for sucking up nectar, the birds also are adapted to eating mistletoe berries which are a major part of their diet.

Not only do they lack a muscular proventriculus (“gizzard”) for grinding food, but they have a sphincter muscle at the base of the ventriculus (stomach) that can close to prevent mistletoe berries from being subjected to most digestive enzymes. As a result, mistletoe berries bypass the ventriculus and move through the birds’ gut quickly, allowing the bird to digest the fruit without harming the seeds. The seeds are sticky when excreted and often several seeds are linked in a long glutinous thread, which adhere to the branch due the bird’s habit of restless switching about. This ensures the seeds a good place to germinate and ensures the birds a future food supply. The mistletoebird is an important dispersal agent for this parasitic plant and has a mutual dependence.

The species is nomadic and solitary out of its breeding season, coming together only to breed. Females build the nest and incubate the 3-4 eggs alone, while both sexes feed the young. Nests are beautiful pear-shaped purse with a slit-like entrance. Mainly constructed out of plant down, spiders’ web, egg-sacs, web-debris, lichen or faded wattle-blossom and can be found hanging from leafy twigs.

Sites where this species can be found at OIRS

This species is rarely seen, but often heard singing around the station lease site especially at dusk and dawn. Males are more often sighted sitting on Silky Oak trees during breeding season September - May.

Research that has been undertaken at OIRS

None.

Female MistletoebirdJuvenile  Mistletoebird

Photos courtesy of www.birdsinbackyards.net