do birds eat mistletoe berries

We kiss under it but mistletoe is important in nature; it provides food, cover, and nesting sites for many animals. The Christmas mistletoe we hang from our doorways is only one of more than 1,300 species of mistletoe worldwide. In the U.S., we have only the American (kissing ) mistletoe and the dwarf mistletoe. The plant’s common name is derived from early observations that mistletoe would often appear in places where birds had left their droppings. “Mistel” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “feces,” and “tang” is the word for “twig.” Mistletoe thus means “feces-on-a-twig.”

Why would mistletoe be associated with bird droppings? Well, it turns out that mistletoe has a handy adaptation that provides for its dispersion. Birds eat mistletoe berries, digest the fleshy part, and excrete the seeds which are covered with a sticky coating , allowing them to adhere to a tree branch. The seeds pass rapidly through the digestive tract in 4-25 minutes, so the seeds come out unharmed and ready to germinate. The seeds then sends out roots to penetrate the tree where they start to absorb some nutrients from the tree. Mistletoe is only a partial parasite as their green leaves allow them to photosynthesize. Eventually mistletoes grow into a bushy form on a tree.

The sticky juice of mistletoe seeds was once used to capture mammals and birds by smearing it on a twig, trapping small creatures. (The Dwarf Mistletoe distributes itself with a different mechanism – exploding berries that shoot each rice grain sized seed up and away at up to 50 mph!)

Birds not only distribute mistletoe, but make more homes for themselves as the mistletoe laden trees have shorter lifespans, leading to more snags and more homes for cavity-nesting birds; three times as many according to some studies.

Grouse, Mourning Doves, bluebirds, Evening Grosbeaks, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings and others eat mistletoe berries. The Phainopepla (photo) of the southwestern desert lives almost exclusively on mistletoe in the winter. Birds also find mistletoe a great place for nesting, especially the dense “witches’ brooms” –a clump or mass of abnormal branch and twig growth (photo). In one study, 43 percent of spotted owl nests were associated with witches’ brooms. Another researcher found that 64 percent of all Cooper’s hawk nests in northeastern Oregon were in mistletoe. Other raptors that use mistletoe as nesting sites include the Great Gray Owls, Long-eared Owls, Northern Goshawks, and Sharp-shinned Hawks. Likewise, some migratory birds— Gray Jay, Red Crossbills, House Wrens, Mourning Doves, Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Tanagers, Chipping Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Cassin’s Finches, and Pine Siskins find dense mistletoe appropriate for nesting.

There actually is a “Mistletoe Bird.”(See photo) It is a flowerpecker species native to most of Australia where it eats mistletoe and a variety of other foods such as berries, pollen, insects, and spiders.

Well, kiss all you might this Christmas season, but don’t eat mistletoe leaves or let your dog or cat chew on them as they are poisonous.

There actually is a “Mistletoe Bird. This species of flowerpecker is indigenous to most of Australia, where it feeds on berries, pollen, insects, spiders, and mistletoe, among other things.

Smeared on a twig, the sticky juice of mistletoe seeds was once used to trap small animals, including birds and mammals. (The Dwarf Mistletoe uses a different method to disperse itself; its exploding berries can shoot each rice-sized seed up to 50 mph!)

Though we kiss beneath it, mistletoe plays an important role in nature as it gives many animals food, cover, and places to nest. There are more than 1,300 species of mistletoe in the world, of which the Christmas variety that we hang from our doorways is only one. In the U. S. only the dwarf mistletoe and the American (kissing) mistletoe are available. Early observations that mistletoe frequently appeared in areas where birds had left their droppings are the source of the plant’s common name. The Anglo-Saxon word for “feces” is “mistel,” and the word for “twig” is “tang.” ” Mistletoe thus means “feces-on-a-twig. ”.

As for why mistletoe would be connected to bird droppings, it turns out that mistletoe has a useful adaptation that facilitates its dispersal. Birds consume mistletoe berries, break down the fleshy part, and then excrete the sticky-coated seeds, which stick to tree branches. In 4 to 25 minutes, the seeds swiftly traverse the digestive tract, emerging undamaged and prepared for germination. After that, the seeds send out roots to pierce the tree, where they begin to take up some of the nutrients. Because they can photosynthesize thanks to their green leaves, mistletoe is only a partial parasite. Eventually mistletoes grow into a bushy form on a tree.

Mistletoe berries are consumed by grouse, mourning doves, bluebirds, evening grosbeaks, American robins, and cedar waxwings, among other birds. In the winter, the Phainopepla (picture) of the southwestern desert subsists primarily on mistletoe. Birds love to nest in mistletoe, particularly in the dense “witches’ brooms,” which are clumps or masses of abnormally growing branches and twigs (picture). In one study, witches’ brooms were connected to 43% of spotted owl nests. Another researcher discovered that mistletoe covered 64% of all Cooper’s hawk nests in northeastern Oregon. Northern Goshawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Long-eared Owls, and Great Gray Owls are among the other raptors that use mistletoe as a nesting site. Dense mistletoe is also a good place for nesting for a few migratory birds, including Cassin’s Finches, Pine Siskins, Pygmy Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, Mourning Doves, Gray Jays, and Western Tanagers.

There are about 1,300 species of mistletoe out there, though only 33 are native to the United States. Fossil records show that they’ve existed for millions of years. Out in the wild these evergreen plants are hardy, probably because they’re parasites: They grow on other trees and shrubs, stabbing their roots into the host plant to suck out its water and nutrients (heartwarming, I know).

The most beautiful time of year is here. There are lights all over the streets, making everything seem so happy. I should be playing in the winter snow, but instead I’m hiding under the mistletoe.

Even the ghost of mistletoe is better than no mistletoe. A new PLOS One study by David Watson, an ecologist from Charles Sturt University in Australia, shows that the plant can help diversity—after it’s all dried up and dead. In eucalyptus woods where decomposing mistletoe littered the floor, Watson counted 37 percent more insect-eating birds than in mistletoe-free zones. The reason behind this, Watson thinks, is that dead mistletoe is great for insects and spiders, so species like Grey Shrike-thrushes and White-winged Choughs can dig through it and find all the crunchy crawlers they want and deserve. Now thats the true holiday spirit.

Here’s a fun etymology lesson: In Old English, “mistletoe” translates to “dung on a twig.” It used to be known as misteltan (“mistel” meaning dung and “tan” meaning twig). Apparently, the old Germanic tribes noticed that the plant sprouts out of bird droppings, and decided to label it as such. Yeah, you can’t make this s**t up.

Yes, it’s all one word. These red-breasted cherubs live in Australia and the outskirts of Indonesia, where they spend their days dining on mistletoe berries (hence the name). The berries have seeds that are hard to digest, though—and unfortunately, Mistletoebirds lack a unique organ most birds do have, a gizzard, which stores and breaks down hard-to-digest bits and meals. Because the Mistletoebird lacks this tiny grindhouse, the seeds pass through its gut whole. This actually works out for the plant, since the seeds come out in perfect shape for germinating. They’re also sticky, and are usually strung together like a garland—ready to decorate any branch they’re pooped out on.


What can I do with mistletoe berries?

Squeeze the berries, one at a time, so that a sticky jelly-like substance emerges containing black seeds. It is perfectly safe for this to be squeezed between fingers, but ensure that hands are washed thoroughly afterwards. Spread the jelly-like viscin, complete with the seeds, onto the chosen branch.

Is mistletoe spread by birds?

The main culprits in spreading mistletoe from branch to branch are birds. Birds eat mistletoe berries (not toxic to them), then after digesting most of the soft parts, pass their droppings, which stick the seeds to the branches. Thus held to the branch, the seeds germinate and the new plant penetrates the bark.

What do the berries on mistletoe mean?

The origins of mistletoe meaning appear to come from a story in Norse mythology. In one story, Balder (the son of Odin, the god of war and death) is killed with an arrow made of mistletoe. Balder’s mother, Frigg, is so upset that her tears turn to white berries which cover the plant and symbolise her love for him.

What are the predators of the Mistletoebird?

Predators known to have taken mistletoebird nestlings are the grey shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), pied butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis), pied currawong (Strepera graculina), and the Australian raven (Corvus coronoides).