Bird of the Week: Rifleman ~ Titipounamu

A little code breaker

By Cushla  McGaughey

Scarlet Mistletoe: need to know the code!

Weighing just 6g and only 8cm long, the Rifleman is our smallest bird. It belongs to an ancient family of New Zealand wrens. The larger Bush Wren is the only other surviving species.

Riflemen are very active and nimble. Constantly flicking their wings, they can work their way up and down vertical tree trunks or hang upside down as they search for food.

They feed mainly on insects, spiders and caterpillars, but sometimes add fruit and nectar to their diet. Like tui and bellbirds, they know how to open mistletoe flowers.

Unlocking the code

The flower buds of our native Scarlet Mistletoe can be opened only by knowing the secret code. The trick is to tweak the tip of the bud.

The petals then spring open, giving access to the nectar inside, while vital pollen is showered over the code breaker.

The nectar feeders move from flower to flower, pollinating as they go. Small yellow berries, which the birds also love, can then develop.

Without these visits from a clever bird, the buds would simply wither, dropping off unopened, and no fruit would form.

The male Rifleman