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Tiny Beauties - Flowerpeckers
Flowerpeckers are tiny birds ranging 8-10 cm in length with short tail and somewhat erratic flight pattern. They are mostly sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female have different physical appearance. The males are more colourful with yellow, orange, red or blue in their plumage. The females are plainer, mainly olive with some yellow or red patches, for example.
Distribution and Habitat
Flowerpeckers are found in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australasian region. Many species inhabit the forest but some species venture out into the adjacent cultivation and gardens.
They are frugivorous and usually observed feeding on berries in the forest margins or mistletoe plants. They also feed on nectar for they have specialized tongue to drink nectar from flowers. In addition, flowerpeckers take some insects and feed on plant sap.
There are more than 50 species of flowerpeckers worldwide. About a dozen species live in Southeast Asia and some of those are described below.
- Orange-bellied Flowerpecker - This flowerpecker is one of the more approachable bird of the rainforest and most likely to be seen along forest edge feeding in fruiting shrubs. The male is strikingly coloured with orange belly, back and rump. The female is olive with yellow on rump, breast and the remaining lowerparts. Immature individual has pale base of bill.
- Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - Unlike many of the flowerpeckers that live in the forest, the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker prefers human habitation like suburban areas and villages. However, most people are not aware of its presence because it stays in tree tops where it habitually feed on mistletoe fruits.
- Spectacled Flowerpecker - A new species of bird, the Spectacled Flowerpecker was only discovered in 2009. It was first observed and photographed by an ornithologist from a canopy walk near a well known tourist spot in Sabah, Borneo. It may have eluded scientists and birdwatchers all these years because it is a canopy specialist.
- Cebu Flowerpecker - This species is found in the island of Cebu, Philippines and nowhere else. It was believed to be extinct in the early 20th century, but amazingly a few individual was observed in the 1990s in a forest area not more than two square kilometers. The future of this bird is grim because of their very small population and habitat.
Flowerpeckers are important seed dispersal agent for many rainforest plants. They are particularly partial of fruits with numerous tiny seeds like the fruits of Melastome plants. If the fruit is too large, they chew it into small pieces before swallowing them. Some of these pieces may fall to the ground and carried away by ants resulting in secondary dispersal.
Not only flowerpeckers act as seed disperser, but they also play an important role as pollinator. The flowers provide nectar and in turn the bird help spread the pollen. In one species of mistletoe plant, the flower looks similar to its fruit. When a flowerpecker takes a bite to eat it, the flower will explode and release plenty of pollens onto its chest and forehead.