Agasthya 6.2 Following the nectar
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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In the evergreen forests of KMTR and in most parts of Western Ghats, a little emerald jewel flits tweeting between flowers on a typical warm sunny day looking for nectar. This is the crimson-backed sunbird (Leptocoma minima), aptly known as the small sunbird, as it is one the smallest birds known from India. The species is restricted to the evergreen forest and surrounding areas between 800- 1300 m and seasonally occurs in different habitats. In the high elevations it feeds on nectar from the flowers of Loranthus and Palaquium during late May and June. Once the monsoon sets in the evergreen forests, the birds move to the lower moist deciduous forests along the eastern slopes where rain is just a drizzle invoking many species to flower. But the most spectacular movement is in January when the blue and red flowers of Helectres isora is common along the eastern slopes stretching from the scrub forest at 80m to the moist deciduous forest at 600m elevation. The small sunbirds come all the way to the scrub forest during this time competing with the other two species of sunbirds for nectar. It's because the wet evergreen forests are nectarless and cold, allowing only the hardy Cullenia and occasionally the Syzygium to flower; thus making the sunbirds move to the fairly productive foothills where the lush vegetation, very similar to the evergreens after the NE rains, and plenty of Helectre in flower keeps them busy for two months. Once the flowering gets over, which also happens gradually up slope, the small sunbirds move back up the hill to feed on Ormosia and Palaquium flowers later in the dry season.

These small birds make this annual migration across the hills to track nectar which is usually scant in the rugged mountains of KMTR and is spatially and temporally spread. In the process they have to compete with their congeneric at the lower elevation and the spider-hunters in the higher elevations apart from other nectar feeders like the Oriental white eye (Zosterops palpebrosus). Such movements are seen elsewhere in the Western Ghats wherever there is this continuum of resources available across the habitats on a temporally overlapping scale. If such corridors of resources become disjointed or fragmented, the birds then have to take the risk to cross inhospitable barriers which can affect their population. It's not just sunbirds; many bees, frugivores and even elephants track resources across the rugged terrain which calls for maintaining an un-fragmented landscape for frugivores , nectarivores and others even within protected areas.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 2
      April 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Following the nectar
- T Ganesh
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