Red-breasted Parakeet and African Tulip seeds

posted in: Feeding-plants, Plants | 2

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The Red-breasted Parakeet (Psittacula alexandri) has been documented by Mark Chua eating the seeds of the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) (above). This is another example of an exotic bird eating fruits/seeds of an exotic plant. The earlier example is of the Tanimbar Corella (Cacatua goffini) eating the fruits of the starfruit tree (Averrhoa carambola) (1, 2).

In the case of both the exotic parrots, they have managed to exploit a food niche that has been neglected by other species (unless there is evidence that other species also feed on these fruits/seeds).

African tulip is a tree native to Tropical West Africa. It was once widely grown in Singapore but because it tends to shed its branches during tropical storms, it is no more seen along roads. However, many still exist in wastelands and areas off the beaten track.

In Hawaii, it is still grown as a wayside tree.

The orange-red flowers are large and attractive, found in erect branches around the periphery of the crown. Asian Glossy Starlings (Aplonis panayensis) and sunbirds also feed on the nectar but Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) collects the nectar in an unconventional way.

The fruits of African tulip are erect, woody flattened pods that burst open to release the many, flattened, winged seeds. The seeds are wind-dispersed and so do not depend on any animals to spread them. However, to discover that Red-breasted Parakeet eats the seeds is interesting. In the process of harvesting the seeds, the bird shake them up in the pod and thus help to disperse them into the air. There is also the possibility of one or a few of the eaten seeds passing through undamaged, thus dispersed some distance from the parent tree.

Tailorbirds have been known to collect the seeds to line their nests.

Mark Chua
Singapore
October 2007

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2 Responses

  1. There’s a similar tree near my house. In the evenings, I sometimes see a flock of these parakeets making a lot of noise. Unfortunately don’t have the equipment (& skill) to capture a good photo to share with you and confirm if they are the same. Too dark and too high up.

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  2. How about using a pair of binoculars, like traditional birdwatchers, and try ID the bird as well as see what they are doing? Maybe they are just resting there? But then you never know what you may see.

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