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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Crimson Sunbirds and the noni tree

Crimson Sunbirds and the noni tree

The male Crimson Sunbirds (Aethopyga siparaja) are fascinating to watch as they flit from branch to branch or leaf to leaf in my noni or mengkudu (Morinda cirtifolia) tree. They announce their presence by their high-pitch ‘cheet-cheet-cheet’ and grab your attention by their bright crimson head and metallic blue forehead.

Some days they visit the tree mornings and evenings. Other days they also come during the afternoons. Mostly, they come to drink the nectar from the many white flowers.

However, during a slight drizzle or just after the rain, these birds visit for another purpose. The leaves are then covered with droplets of water and the birds come and dance around, rubbing their bodies against them in play. The large leaves apparently see to it that the birds do not get drenched as they provide some protection from the rain.

Just as suddenly as they appear, these birds suddenly disappear, with their feathers covered with droplets of water.

These Crimson Sunbirds regularly eat the fruits of the mistletoe Dendrophthoe pentandra that grow on the branches of the nearby mempat trees. These birds must have left some seeds in the noni tree when foraging for nectar. An old detached leaf was found on the ground with a mistletoe seedling growing from the stalk. Obviously this was a wrong location for leaves do not remain long on the tree.

Our young naturalist Serin Subaraj wrote about sunbirds bathing on leaves covered with water droplets after each watering in the garden. Well, these Crimson Sunbirds similarly are attracted to the noni tree whenever my volunteer gardener Eileen, waters the foliage instead of the ground below.

Text and images by YC.



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