Painted Honeyeater peeling mistletoe berry
Size: 15.5-16 cm
Weight: 18-25 g
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In November 2017 we observed a Painted Honeyeater feasting on berries of mistletoe in casuarinas. The first photo below looks like any fruit-eating bird at work: the bird takes the fruit between its mandibles and usually it will pick the fruit and gulp it down whole - but not so here! The bird proceeded to peel the skin off the front half of the fruit, then pull out the flesh and leave the back half of the skin, plus the stem, attached to the tree. Click on images for larger versions showing more detail.
This may suggest that most of the toxins in mature fruit of mistletoe are contained in the skin. By peeling the fruit, Painted Honeyeaters may be avoiding eating most of the toxins. To the best of our knowledge, only Mistletoebirds have an adapted digestive system that allows them to take the whole fruit, partially digest it, and excrete it again as a sticky mass.
Painted Honeyeater peeling off the front half of the skin of a mistletoe berry; the berry is now visibly paler pink
Here the Painted Honeyeater appears to be separating the rest of the mistletoe berry's skin from the flesh