The Strange Ways Of The Karoo Sunbird

Bird watchers in the Karoo have been  amazed to see malachite sunbirds foraging at ground level.  Ecologists Richard Dean and Sue Milton once explained (in the William Quinton Wild Bird Society Newsletter), that this is not an unusual phenomenon.  “Bird-pollinated plants in this arid zone  grow at such a low level that birds often have to perch on the ground to feed,” said Sue.

“The Aloe claviflora, for instance, has to attract sunbirds, essential to its pollination, yet be inconspicuous to buck and baboons, who love its large, bright flowers. Baboons eat the flowers and pull out the stalks to munch the soft end. Weavils are also a delicacy for both buck and baboons so their searches for these little creatures often destroy the plants. To prevent such damage the aloe flowers grow on horizontal spikes about 30cm long and so close to the ground as to be virtually invisible to animals walking by. But, they are highly conspicuous from the air, so they attract malachite and lesser double-collared sunbirds, so they are often seen flying low over what appears to be barren Karoo veld or sitting on the ground feeding.” Birding is a popular pastime in the Karoo and the market constantly expands as new ecological sites are developed.

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