International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 7

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 7

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 7

International Wildlife Encyclopedia - Vol. 7

Excerpt

FLOWERPECKER

The female mistletoe bird or mistletoe flowerpecker builds a small, pear-shaped nest that hangs from twigs.

FLOWERPECKERS ARE AMONG the smallest birds in the Indian and Australian regions. There are 61 species, ranging from the size of a tit to that of a house sparrow, Passer domesticus. Their bills tend to be sharp and their tails stubby. Typical flowerpeckers are found in India and eastern China, across to the Philippines, south through Malaysia to Australia and Tasmania, where there is a closely-related family of birds known as the pardelotes (Pardelotidae).

Nectar drinkers

Flowerpeckers usually live high in the trees, from the bamboo groves and plantations of the plains and lowland rain forests to the moss forests of the hills and the scattered, stunted trees on the sides of mountains. The scarlet-backed flowerpeckers of Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia are sometimes found in gardens. They are usually seen in pairs or small parties, fluttering and calling frequently with their high-pitched calls. They move through the trees in search of the flowers and berries of certain plants, often from the Loranthaceae family. Flowerpeckers may congregate in larger parties if there is a good supply of these plants.

The Loranthaceae are plants such as mistletoe and are parasitic on trees. They send growths into the wood of their hosts to extract the sap on which they live. Many flowerpeckers feed wholly on the nectar from the flowers of these plants or on their berries. The mistletoe bird of Australia, the strongest flying of all flowerpeckers, is nomadic, moving around the country in search of ripening mistletoe berries. Its breeding season is timed to coincide with the main mistletoe crop. Like several other flowerpeckers, the mistletoe bird also eats other berries and takes some insects and spiders.

Symbiotic relationship

By going from one flower to another, nectareating flowerpeckers help in cross-pollination. Several other tropical birds, such as honeyeaters, honeycreepers and sunbirds, also habitually visit flowers for their nectar and similarly help pollination. All these birds have adaptations for this way of life. Flowerpeckers have long tongues that curl over at the edges to form tubes, with which they suck up nectar from mistletoe flowers. While thrusting their heads into the flowers, the flowerpeckers brush against the stamens, which in mistletoe flowers are just inside the lip of the corolla. If the stamens are ripe, pollen is wiped onto the flowerpecker's head feathers and is transferred later to another flower. The role flowerpeckers play in pollination is probably not as important as that of some other pollinating birds, but there is nevertheless a close relationship between the birds and plants.

Nectar drinking in birds is thought to have arisen from an insect-eating habit. Habitual nectar drinkers have fine, pointed bills reminiscent of insect eaters, and most of them still take some insects. They probably began visiting flowers in search of the very tiny insects that gathered there to collect nectar and later began to take nectar themselves.

Berry eaters

As well as pollinating the mistletoe's flowers, flowerpeckers disperse its seeds. It is for this that the birds are best known. The Australian mistletoe bird and many others do not carry out any pollination but might be classified as pests

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