|An adult male Eastern Spinebill sitting on a grevillea bush outside my study window|
I've been at the desk a bit too much recently, but it is has turned out quite entertaining as our garden in
Canberra is busy with birds - and they have been a great distraction. Right outside the window, about a metre from me as I type, there is a small flock of Eastern Spinebills Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris feeding on a flowering grevillea. Spinebills are a species of honeyeater, and like their name suggests, they specialize in feeding on nectar, which grevilleas produce in abundance.
|An adult spinebill dips its bill into a grevillea flower for nectar|
|An immature spinebill dips its bill into the same grevillea flower.|
These birds are about sparrow size.
Grevilleas are part of the protea family and they have a highly adapted form of flower. The inflorescences - the flower spikes - have multiple flower heads held in tight clusters and with over three hundred species, they come in lots of shapes and sizes. They have evolved to be pollinated by different species of birds, insects or small marsupials, such as sugar gliders, but especially honeyeaters. There are over 60 species of honeyeater, mostly in Australia and the two families have similar geographic spreads in the general Australia/Oceania area. So, the honeyeaters are probably the main pollinators.
Grevillea flowers have an exaggeratedly long style which unfolds with a sticky pad of pollen grains around the stigma at the tip, the pollen-presenter. The pollen is transferred from the anthers to the style as the flower opens and there are some unfolded styles in the first two photographs above, they are the curling loops above the petals. The nectar sac is cunningly concealed between fused petals and can only be reached via a slim opening. An opening which the spinebills can probe into with their fine long, curved bills, but many other animals can't gain access - this pollination strategy is selective towards species that can transfer the pollen. As the birds dip their bill into the nectar, they touch the pollen-presenters and a deposit of sticky pollen is left on their crown. Then, when the birds fly to another grevillea plant, they brush against another flower's pollen-presenter and the pollen is passed onto the style and into the stigma. And that's it, all done, the flower has been pollinated.
|Pollen sticks to the crown of this spinebill's head as it dips between a crowd of pollen-presenters|
Spinebills, like other honeyeaters which are specialized nectar-feeders, have brush-tipped tongues, an adaptation that allows the birds to lap up the nectar from the tight space inside the nectar sac.They don't gain much per flower-visit, so these birds busy when feeding, and they are busiest in the morning and late afternoon. Which is fine by me as I see them first thing and then at the end of a long desk session, without too much distraction during the middle of the day.
|The tip of this spinebill's tongue can be seen as the white part protruding from the end of the bill - it's very delicate|