Mistletoe babies

Once in a blue moon I get an opportunity when I believe it is ethically acceptable to photograph a nest. I see lots of nests but usually watch from a distance, too far away for photography even if carrying a long lens. There are many ways that human interest can cause a nest to be abandoned or predated and I’m always saddened when I see images that appear to have been taken in ways that may have impacted nestlings.


Mistletoebird 2 - Kim Wormald

Mistletoebird (Dicaeum hirundinaceum)


A little bird (thank you Julie) told me about this nest which was almost over-hanging a busy pathway around a lake. A few years ago Mistletoebirds nested in my garden, their cobwebby nest was shaped like a silken pouch and hung at head height from a eucalypt branch. After a while three little bills started peeking through the entrance slit. As the nestlings grew the pouch gradually expanded, it was amazing to watch.

In the image above the nest has practically disintegrated. There are two mistletoe babies in the image, both are ready to fledge. Adult Mistletoebirds are about 10cm in length and weigh about 9g, they are very tiny, very beautiful little birds.


Mistletoebird 3 - Kim Wormald


The second nestling is easier to see in this image as both babies have their bills open hoping that mumma is going to feed them rather than their sibling.

Although baby Mistletoebirds are sometimes fed insects the main dietary item for Mistletoebirds are mistletoe berries which pass quickly through their digestive systems. When the berries are excreted they are sticky and don’t drop freely from the birds as most bird poops do, instead the birds have to wipe their poop onto branches to dislodge it. As the berries have passed through quickly the seeds are viable and germinate on the branches enabling new mistletoe plants to grow and ensuring an ongoing supply of berries for the birds – ingenious!

Male Mistletoebirds are more brightly coloured than females with black heads, upperparts and wings, bright red bibs, pale underparts with a dark streak in the centre, and pale red under their tails.


Mistletoebird - Kim Wormald


The final image in the series shows the male bird feeding the upstairs chick. It also shows the exquisite detail of the nest and the extent to which the pouch had disintegrated.

More about bird photography ethics can be found at Australian Birdlife Photographers’ Code of Ethics and at an earlier lirralirra post Grey Fantails in an egg cup

Happy ethical birding, Kim


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