Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crimson Rosella in a Robertson backyard

The Crimson Rosella, Platycercus elegans is a common bird in Robertson. No question about it, but they are seldom as "open" in their feeding as this bird. Not only is the bird colour co-ordinated, with the Pineapple Sage (Salvia rutilans), the photo shows the bird actually feeding in their favourite way, crunching on the nectar-filled base of this red tubular flower.

I planted this plant at the back of the local Community Technology Centre, four years ago, just before the CTC opened (scroll down the volunteers page to see me in action!). I selected this plant in order to attract the Spinebills, our most common small Honeyeater. So I was surprised to spot this Rosella sitting there, low down in this bush, having a sweet treat (it has the sweet base of the flower in its beak). This plant is not Australian, it probably comes from Mexico (many Salvias do). Mexico is famous for its Hummingbirds which have evolved their long beaks and their hovering ability, to feed on tubular flowers (their favourites are red ones). Australia has many red, tubular, nectar-rich flowers, and we have our own specialist nectar-feeding birds - the Honeyeaters. Long thin beaks which they insert in the flowers. In return they receive a dob of pollen on their foreheads, which they take to the next flower. Thus they complete the nectar feeding-pollination cycle for the plants.
Juvenile Eastern Spinebill - note the long beak.

But our Rosellas have developed the ability to by-pass that pollination cycle. With their heavy, crushing beaks, these parrots are essentially seed eaters. However, many have developed a "sweet tooth", and crunch the base of the nectar-rich flower, to access the source of the sweetness. Unfortunately, for the plants, this totally defeats the plant's pollination strategy. I have previously illustrated the destruction of Waratah flowers by Rosellas.

My favourite image of Rosella feeding is this "head shot". It is severely cropped from a shot of a Rosella feeding in a Tree Fern in the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. In this case the bird is eating the fresh tips of the new growth on a Tree Fern.
I just love the colour balance in this photo. It is also a good shot of the detail of the strong, pearl-like beak and the coloured head. The blue cheek patch is distinctive of the Crimson Rosella, even in juvenile birds which are often green, or mostly green, causing confusion in inexperienced bird-watchers.


Joe said...

Beautiful shots! What camera and lens do you use?

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Joe.
Pls see my response to all comments on most recent post - Swamp Wallaby in Nature Reserve.