We’ve been very busy this week preparing mistletoe grow-kits; cropping mistletoe, cutting it up to leave just the tips, then carefully cutting off the berries with a weeny bit of stalk (otherwise they leach goo everywhere), and then packing them along with all the other grow-kit bits to be sent out. It’s surprisingly hard work, and I have a cricked neck to prove it. This is due to stretching up with extending poles to reach mistletoe each morning and then peering down to cut 1000s of berry stalks every afternoon. An unnatural combination. Not helped by my varifocals – maybe I should see the optician before the neck masseur.
So how does this work in nature? How are mistletoe berries shifted about naturally? Well, we have an example right outside the window where we’re working. There’s a pile of waste mistletoe there, and it’s being exploited by a Blackcap, a bird that specialises in mistletoe berry eating/seed distribution (when it can find it). Our current Blackcap is a female, so it has a brown, rather than black ‘cap’. And it loves our little pile of mistletoe, returning again and again to take a berry. This Blackcap is one of the ‘new’ generation of overwintering Blackcaps – a new migration pattern from a breeding population in Germany – I’ll say more about them another time.
Blackcaps are fussy mistletoe eaters, taking just one berry at a time and separating the pulp/skin from the seed before wiping the seed off on a branch and swallowing the remaining berry pulp. First step is to find your berry – and our female looks rather comical as she struggles to control the rather large white berry in her beak. She needs to squash it next, to begin separation of the seed, so she tends to shake it to and fro a little as she attempts to break it up. Once she has it beginning to break up she flies straight off to a nearby tree where she wipes the seed off and consumes the rest. Sometimes this is rapid, with her return within a few seconds. Other times she can seen be for some time whipping the split berry from side to side on a tree branch – some seeds just don’t want to be detached!
A few general pictures in a slide-show below – they’re not best quality but they were taken through a window with a camera operated by a bloke with a cricked neck hiding behind an aloe. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a video…