To: <>
Subject: Mistletoebird
From: Carol Probets <>
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2004 11:46:14 +1000
Gary and all,

Re growing mistletoe in the garden. The March 2004 issue of Wingspan had an interesting article about mistletoe and its value for wildlife. On page 12 is a segment containing instructions "How to grow mistletoe". Among the points mentioned it states that the sticky seed should be wiped on the underside of a twig, and that the twig "should be vigorous, thinner than a pencil and in full sun". It also states that establishment rates are quite low and you might expect perhaps 2 or 3 plants per 20 seeds planted.

As I found out recently, the mistletoe seed doesn't necessarily pass through the gut of the Mistletoebird. While travelling up the Stuart Highway near Erldunda, I was able to closely watch a pair of Mistletoebirds feeding on the fruit of a mistletoe growing in an acacia. As these particular fruits were quite large, instead of swallowing them the bird took each one in its bill and sucked the flesh out, before wiping its bill and depositing the sticky skin and seed on a branch. This the birds did repeatedly, and I wonder if this is equally as effective for germination of the new plant as being swallowed by the bird and passing through the gut, as they mostly do.

In a previous email, Syd Curtis wrote:
Mr. J. L. McKean wrote the Mistletoe-bird entry in "Birds of the High Country" edited by H.J. Frith, (Reed, 1969).  He said:
"In addition to mistletoe berries, they eat berries of a few other plants, including saltbush, box-thorn, privet, hawthorne and pepper trees.  Insects are also eaten and in fact, form the main food given to the nestlings during their first few days of life."

I've seen Mistletoebirds eating the fruit from a pepper tree, but as far as privet goes, my guess is that it must be no more than an accidental or occasional food for them. Otherwise, they would be here in the Blue Mountains in droves during the winter privet fruiting season. In fact Mistletoebirds are not particularly common in the NSW Blue Mountains and most often only seen flying over.

I liked Syd's points about the various types of mistletoe. Might I add that most Australian mistletoes are in the family Loranthaceae as opposed to Viscaceae which contains the much more celebrated northern hemisphere mistletoes. However, our Loranthaceous mistletoes and more diverse and (unlike Viscaceae) attractive to nectar-feeding birds, although both families use birds as seed dispersal agents and are therefore potentially attractive to Mistletoebirds.



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