Bird Families

Red-headed Flower Beetle / Dicaeum geelvinkianum

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Orange-bellied flower beetle

One small bright bird lives in Southeast Asia, the Orange-bellied flower beetle (Dicaeum trigonostigma). Compared to other flower beetles, they can be seen quite often in the south of Thailand or in Malaysia. But these birds are very restless and fast-winged, just look closely, and her trace is gone. It so happened that I was able to observe the flower beetles for a little longer than usual. In the Oriental Village, which was located next to our hotel on the Pulau Langkawi island in Malaysia, we found a small alley of some fruit-bearing trees, on which these flower beetles were feeding among the sunbirds, starlings - alponis and orioles. My story is about them further.

All flower beetles, and there are 48 species of them, belong to the family of flower beetles (Dicaeidae) of the Passeriformes order. Representatives of this family outwardly look monotonous: stocky birds with a short tail and wide beak, live in India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, the islands of Indonesia, and Australia. Male and female in many species look the same, but there are flower beetles with sexual demorphism in color. This is exactly what the Orange-bellied flower beetles are: dark blue males with an orange belly and back (photo above) differ from yellowish-green females. (photo below).

"Many publications have been published about flower beetles, including in Russian, which describe all the amazing features of their life," I would like to inform you, but alas! A small essay in the "Systematics of Birds" by N. Kartashev, and a few suggestions from Evgeny Koblik in "Variety of Birds" is all that I could find in the Russian-language literature. Moreover, there is an article in the multivolume "Animal Life", where these birds are called Flower Suckers. Now this name is no longer used.
But, nevertheless, with the help of the Internet, you can find a lot of interesting information about flower beetles in other languages. So why are these birds interesting?
Yes, at least the color of the belly of these little birds! They are really quite tiny: with a length of 9 cm, their weight is only 8 grams.

Interesting facts about the nutrition of flower beetles, or flower suckers. The Russian name hints that these birds feed on the flowers of plants, or the nectar of these flowers. The English name Flowerpeckers, which can be translated as "Flower beetle", also confirms this, but the German "Mistelfresser" - a mistletoe eater, reports on other nutritional predilections of birds. But first about the nectar. In order for a bird to suck on nectar, it must have special devices for this. And they really do exist: the orange-bellied flower beetle has a tubular tongue. Here it can be clearly seen in the picture of the "yellow-billed" chick. Despite the short beak, the bird's tongue is long and narrow, rolled into a tube, with one third of the tongue bifurcated and forms two open tubes.

Other nectar-eating birds have similar tongues, such as the Meliphaga of passerine birds. Other birds, such as the Hawaiian flower girls from the Passerines and the Hummingbirds from the Swarfiformes, can roll their tongue into a tube.
However, not all flower beetles are fortunate enough to have such languages. Only a few species (from 4 to 8) can boast of them. For others, they can be very different, in total there are 4 different types of languages ​​in the genus Dicaeum.
In addition to nectar, flower beetles feed on berries, and below I will show how they do this. Many of these birds have jagged edges on their beaks, and the flower beetles with their beaks, like a small saw, easily cut the shell of the berries, pulling out seeds with pulp. Here the female begins to squeeze the berry.

And then she already got to the seeds, which she will eat.

Young birds also want something tasty.

However, with eating berries, too, not everything is so simple for flower beetles. The fact is that these birds specialize in eating the berries of plants from the family of Stones (Loranthaceae). These plants are low shrubs leading a semi-parasitic lifestyle on dicotyledonous trees, rarely on conifers. The fruit is an egg-shaped or spherical berry or drupe with a juicy and sticky pulp and a thin outer layer. The embryo is surrounded by abundant endosperm. The fruits are an important food source for birds, while the seeds, passing through their digestive tract, remain intact. Moreover, it was found that the germination of such seeds is significantly increased.

So mistletoe also belongs to these semi-parasitic plants. That is why the Germans call these birds the mistletoe eaters ("Mistelfresser"). However, the mistletoe fruit is not digested, but its sticky pulp is tasty and healthy. In addition, these fruits have a strong laxative effect. What should the flower beetles do? Nature has found amazing adaptations for feeding the fruits of these plants. In all flower beetles, the muscular part of the stomach can be closed by a sphincter (valve), and mistletoe berries immediately pass into the duodenum, bypassing the stomach. Thus, mistletoe seeds are not frayed, because they will not be digested anyway, and the nutritious pulp is absorbed in the intestines. Moreover, the digestion process is carried out in a matter of minutes. Having swallowed 3-4 berries, the bird cleans the intestines, rubs against the branch and cleans the koaku from sticky seeds. Then it starts to eat again.

The flower beetles have so adapted to the laxative that in captivity they cannot feed on fruits alone. In this case, the Orange-bellied flower beetle has difficulties with the passage of the eaten!

In addition to mistletoe, their diet contains a lot of seeds and fruits of other plants: figs (Ficus), bananas (Musa), mangroves, rubber trees and coffee bushes. In addition, spiders (Araneae) and small insects. In this case, the muscular part of the stomach works in the bird, the valve opens and the food is frayed. How this process is regulated in the literature is not described.
It is very difficult for me to identify the species, and even families, of trees and shrubs growing there in unfamiliar forests. To me they all seem the same, and this is visually exactly so. The trunks of many tree species are very similar, and the leaves and fruits are high up. Only paddies on the trail can help a knowledgeable person. But I am not.
Therefore, I do not know what kind of berries the flower beetles ate. But I know that sometimes they take them away with them, almost like our tits take away seeds.

This concludes my story about the Orange-bellied flower beetle. I just want to note that their chicks have a very noticeable bright orange beak, which is not reflected in the literature. And it must be said that all flower beetles play a significant role in the dispersal of epiphytic plants of the Remnian flower family.

I thank everyone who read my voluminous text. But the information about flower beetles seemed to me very interesting, and I decided to convey it to you, dear reader.
In the continuation of today's text, I will soon show other types of flower beetles that I have met on my trips.

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