Monday, January 14, 2013

Painted Honeyeater feeding

While birding near Clunes in Victoria on Sunday 13th March we had prolonged views of a Painted Honeyeater feeding on Mistletoe berries.

I was able to get a full sequence of the bird approaching a mistletoe berry, cutting the end of the skin off (like cutting the shell off the top of a boiled egg without damaging the egg), pushing back the skin, squeezing the skin behind the white flesh (it looks like a lychee) so that the berry moves forward, grasping the berry in the tip of the bill, throwing it up and catching it and then swallowing it whole. 

This method of feeding is briefly mentioned in HANZAB Vol. 5 page 992 in relation to collecting fruit to feed to young but in this case the bird spent approximately 15 to 20 minutes feeding and preening before it flew off.
From the colour of its back it appears that the bird was a female. Only one bird was seen or heard.
The following sequence is compiled from photos of the bird eating two different berries. Some of the images are not as sharp as I would have liked but they are the best I have of each phase of feeding.

The bird reaches for a Mistletoe Berry
The head is turned, apparently cutting the under side of the fruit skin
Now it appears that the top side is being cut. Empty fruit skins can be seen above the one being opened.
The cut top is removed from the fruit and discarded
Here the bird appears to be inspecting the fruit
Here the fruit casing is being squeezed behind the fruit to move the fruit forward
A first grip is made on the fruit
The head is moved and the extraction continues
The fruit is removed and the empty skin is left on the tree
The fruit is thrown up in the air prior to swallowing
The fruit is just visible in the back of the throat. As these two shots are in sequence it appears that the fruit is swallowed without re-grasping in the bill
The fruit is finally swallowed

It was a real privilege to be able watch this beautiful and not common bird as it fed and preened. As we also saw a Square-tailed Kite over the same bush-block and a group of Speckled Warblers nearby it was a spectacular day of birding.

All images © Jenny Spry

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