Birds are closely associated with plants. The latter provide shelter, nesting sites as well as nesting materials. Most importantly, plants provide food in terms of flower nectar, fruits and the insects they attract.
Unfortunately, most photographers and birdwatchers simply ignore the plants and focus their attention on the birds. In reviewing the more than 2,250 posts currently on this website, I noticed that only a few contributors made great efforts at identifying the plants associated with the birds they were documenting – fruits LINK, flower nectar LINK, nesting sites LINK, nesting materials LINK and insects LINK.
Such information is always valuable to ornithology. And documenting the plants that are associated with the birds we stalk provides an additional challenge, besides uplifting the quality of birdwatching. To simply view birds or to photograph them will not sustain our interests for long. After all, there are only so many species that can be sought after. And after most of the commoner species have been seen or photographed, what then? This is one reason why many of our birdwatchers and photographers leave after a year or so for more challenging things elsewhere.
Admittedly, plants may be difficult to identify, especially those that are not ornamentals but commonly planted in gardens and along the waysides. But there is a simple solution. Take pictures of the plant in question, to show its profile, close-up of the leaves for shape and arrangements along the stem or twig, flowers for their colours and other details, and of course fruits. It is not always that you can find flowers and fruits, but do document them when available.
A good example is when KC Tsang sent in an image of a flower for identification (above left). It was identified as a member of the Solanaceae, possibly a Solanum sp. Subsequent images provid details of the leaves (above centre) and fruits (above right). These help to confirm the species as Solanium torvum.
Forest plants are more difficult but we can always document these parts for future identification. As with prey where we send the images to specialist biologists/naturalists to identify, the same can apply to plants.
The above would not pose a problem with photographers, as it would not be difficult to capture a few more images of the plants. In the case of birdwatchers, especially those who are averse to using a camera, there is always the mobile phone that can be used.
So the next time you are out in the field, do not forget to pay some attention to the plants that the birds are associated with.
YC Wee & KC Tsang