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Not Just Any Nectar Will Do

The sweet stuff attracts more species than hummingbirds
© Christopher C. Witt View Large

Hummingbirds such as this Buff-tailed Sicklebill specialize in nectar feeding. But other species of birds, less specialized to nectar, also visit flowers for a taste of the sweet stuff. The flowers they visit likely have a more open shape, with nectar more accessible to a non-specialist’s bill. The sugar they sample is probably different from what hummingbirds prefer. As flowering plants and birds co-evolved, each to benefit from the other, it seems likely that plants evolved the type of sugar best suited to the pollinators on hand. It's a win-win for all concerned. 

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®   

Birds, Nectar, Sugar

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

To a connoisseur, not all sugars taste the same.  [Music]

A hummingbird dips its long, slender bill into a scarlet, tube-shaped flower to reach the nectar deep within. When it flies off, the bird carries pollen from the plant, which it rubs off on the next flower from which it sips. Like some bees, hummingbirds specialize in nectar feeding, and are essential pollinators. [Music] 

Even though they also eat tiny insects, they are the ultimate nectar connoisseurs. And the sugar they prefer and seek in flowers is sucrose.  

Other kinds of birds, less specialized to nectar, also visit flowers for a taste of the sweet stuff. The flowers they visit likely have a more open shape, with nectar more ac-cessible to a non-specialist’s bill. These birds may still be important pollinators. But the sugar they sample is likely different from what hummingbirds prefer.[Hummingbird]

As flowering plants and birds co-evolved, each to benefit from the other, it seems likely that plants evolved the type of sugar best suited to the pollinators on hand, offering it in their flowers. 

It's a win win for all concerned: the plants, that need the birds, and the birds, that want the sugar. But not just any sugar. The right sugar. [Music]

                                                    ###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Buff Bellied Hummingbird ]105601] recorded by G. A. Keller.
Mozart Concerto in A Major for Clarinet and Orchestra K622, Martin Frost, 
Amsterdam Sinfonietta & Peter Oundjian, from '100 Supreme Classical Masterpieces' 2010 X5 Music Group
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org    December 2015   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#  nectar-01-2014-12-29    nectar-01

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