Mistletoebird and Flycatcher

Leaden Flycatcher in shrubbery
Leaden Flycatcher

We’re well into the Dry season now and, as I said when I introduced the Leaden Flycatcher two years ago, the bird population of our garden builds up as the surrounding countryside dries out. We’re going to see even more this year, actually, since Townsville has just gone on to Level 3 water restrictions, meaning that parks and most gardens will also dry out while our bore water will keep our garden green.

Photographing the smallest birds is a special exercise in patience and luck. Many of them like to forage in dense shrubbery where they can move freely but bigger birds can’t, and where they are safer from attack. They are also safer from the paparazzi, since they rarely offer a clear shot (the oddly blurred background of the photo above is out-of-focus foliage) and they are often in shadow or dappled light.

Which species am I talking about? Particularly Sunbirds (11 cm), these Flycatchers (15 cm) and White-throated and Brown Honeyeaters (both about 14 cm). (By way of comparison, the Cairns Birdwing butterfly has a wingspan of 12 – 15 cm.) Spice Finches (11 cm) are just as small but at least they tend to feed in the open.

The Mistletoebird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum, is another member of the list. At 10 cm and 9 gm (the weight of two teaspoons of sugar) it is one of our smallest, and it flits about erratically, high in the tree canopy.

Mistletoebird high in our paperbark tree

As Bird in Backyards notes, Mistletoebirds are found Australia-wide and feed on berries of the plants they are named for, having an important role in distributing the seeds. Mine is a male; the females are basically grey, darker above than below. The species is our only member of Dicaeidae, the Flowerpecker family. Its nearest Australian relatives seem to be Sunbirds.

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