Palms and the birds they attract

on 18th July 2017

Palms are commonly planted in gardens and parks all over Singapore. They are impressive looking, with their tall, straight trunk, some slender other massive, bearing a mass of feathery fronds at the top. However, because they do not provide much shade, they are seldom planted along the wayside. These plants contribute much to the avian biodiversity of our garden city.

Some birds build their nests between the frond bases LINK or on the undersurface of the fronds LINK. Others excavate cavities in the rotting stem LINK.

Coppersmith Barbet nesting (Photo credit: Tang Hung Bun)
Coppersmith Barbet nesting in a cavity in a palm trunk (Photo credit: Tang Hung Bun)

Birds (as well as insects and other animals) are attracted to the nectar secreted by the flowers. For example, sunbirds collect nectar from flowers of Coconut (Cocos nucifera) LINK. In the process they help to pollinate the flowers. Parakeets have been documented eating palm flowers for the nectar they contain LINK. Whether this results in pollination needs to be established

Long-tailed Parakeets feeding on Alexandra Palm fruits (Photo credit: YC Wee)
Long-tailed Parakeets feeding on Alexandra Palm flowers (Photo credit: YC Wee)

The one-seeded palm fruits are the major attraction for birds. About 20 species of birds that feed on the fruits have been documented in this website. More have yet to be documented. Depending on the size of the fruits and the gape of the birds, palm fruits are either swallowed whole or the outer flesh is torn off piece by piece.

In swallowing the fruits, seeds are effectively dispersed some distance away. This happens in one of two ways. The seeds can be regurgitated after the flesh is scraped off in the crop or they can be passed off as droppings. In the case of the latter the seeds are dispersed a longer distance away as passage through the alimentary canal takes time.

Seed regurgitating is seen among koels, starlings and hornbills.

Small birds with narrow gape like flowerpeckers, mynas and bulbuls tear off the flesh, dropping the partially eaten fruits around the base of the palm. The seeds are not properly dispersed here.

Hanging-parrot feeding on an Oil Palm fruit (Photo credit: Chan Yoke Meng)
Hanging-parrot feeding on an Oil Palm fruit (Photo credit: Chan Yoke Meng)

Hanging-parrots, laughingthrushes and parakeets similarly eat by tearing pieces of the outer flesh. These birds again do not contribute to seed dispersal.

For a complete list of palms and the birds that interact with them, check out this LINK.

YC Wee
26th June 2017

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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