Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Stuck on You

Thick-billed Flowerpecker
I photographed this Thick-billed Flowerpecker Dicaeum agile at Tissa, a few weeks ago. In it, a close examination of the base of the beak—lower mandible to be precise—shows a few seeds sticking to it. Here's a close crop.

Thick-billed Flowerpecker
Flowerpeckers mainly feed on fruit, most notably those of mistletoes—hemi-parasites that grow on top of other trees, known in Sinhala as pilila. The formal name for flowerpecker in Sinhala is Pilalichcha, which reveals the close ties between the two. Another example that stridently brings this two to the fore is the famous Mistletoebird Dicaeum hirundinaceum of Australia.

Mistletoes depend on birds for dispersing their seeds. For that, these plants have come up with a smart plan. That is to pack their juicy fruits with sticky coated seeds; therefore, when the birds feed on the fruits, the gluey seeds get attached to their beaks—often leaving them rather messy. And when the birds wipe their beaks clean on branches, or pass out the droppings, the seeds achieve dispersal—a payback from the birds to the plants. The stickiness of the seeds is caused by a material called viscin, and it hardens and attaches the seed firmly to its future host.

Long time ago, I saw a documentary by Sir David Attenborough that featured the Mistletoebird, and saw that their droppings, unlike most birds, do not drop like they usually do due to the stickiness caused by viscin. So the birds have to wipe their bottoms on the branches to get rid of the droppings effectively. This in turn makes sure that the droppings packed with mistletoe seeds won't fall to the forest's floor and go wasted, but get firmly established on a branch instead, where they have a better chance of commencing their life, tapping into the nutrients and water of the host plant.

And, yes, birds wipe too!


Delilah said...

love the detail on the eye.

Lady divine said...

very very very nice!

Andrew said...

Great photos!

Janith said...

ooooh, birds use live trees and we use dead ones! lol ;)

loving the photo Amila! :)

Kirigalpoththa said...

Now you are like sherlock holmes here..very interesting observations and analysis too!

Pilalichcha - Related to demalichcha or polkichcha?

flowergirl said...


Dont know whether to go ewww, or wow!

Stuart Price said...

I had no idea birds wiped too........

rainfield61 said...

I like this.

The birds wipe too, but is it neccessary out in the wild? Who care?

KaHolly said...

It never ceases to amaze me how Mother Nature takes care of every little detail. Awesome capture.

Sunita Mohan said...

Darn! Now we have to outsmart plants too.
Great photos, Amila.

Tabib said...

Wow great detail!.
I like the tittle - "Stuck on you" which remind me of Lionel Richie song. ;)

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Delilah,
Yes, that eye colour stands out when you see it in good light.

Hi Lady Divine,
Thank you - nice to know that.

Hi Andrew,
Thank you.
Pleased to hear from you.

Hi Chavie,
Correct, but remember you can use live trees in a push...

Hi K,
They all have their names ending with 'ichcha' which is a sweet sounding name for 'bird'. Otherwise they do not have any close relationship.

Hi flowergirl,
I am sure it was a ewww to start with. Very disappointed we lost the first ODI.

Hi Stu,
Yes, they very much do!

Hi rainfield,
Wiping can be handy in the wild, when there is no water.

Hi Kaholly,
It is quite amazing indeed, thanks.

Hi Sunita,
Some plants are very clever.
Hope the boys are enjoying the cricket.

Hi Tabib,
I too like that song very much.
I now have a lot of catching up to do...

Dee said...

wow photo as always :D and the last sentence cracked me up :D Do we HAVE mistletoe in SLanka??

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Dee,
Thank you.
Yes, we have many mistletoe species in Sri Lanka - ones referred by botanists as 'shoot' hemiparasites and 'root' hemiparasites.

Anonymous said...

GORGEOUS ! don't post as often as you used too...! Happy Holidays ! :)

Amila Salgado said...

Happy Holidays, Nat!
It is the time of the year when I guide bird and wildlife tours over here, so I am mostly in the field these days with no/limited access to internet. I wish to resume regular programming when I am less busy.

oldcrow61 said...

What a wonderful story about the Mistletoe. Beautiful picture.

Vickie said...

Very interesting post, Amila. It all fits together in that special way only nature can create.

Kirigalpoththa said...

Dear Amila,

Wish you a bright and prosperous new year 2010!

Best wishes,


Unknown said...

Lovely image. Happy new year to you...Thomas

Pat - Arkansas said...

Marvelous photo, of course, and I found the information about the mistletoe seeds very interesting. I was a bit afraid when I saw the post title that you might have a photo of a leech! Oh! I'd much rather look at birds with seedy beaks!

Happy New Year to you, Amila.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi OC, Vickie, K, T & S and Pat,
Happy New Year!
Thanks a lot for your comments.
I have been away mostly. I am determined to update this blog in the coming few days....

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