With more species crammed into a smaller area than anywhere else, the Cape can rightly claim that it is the global epicentre of biodiversity. It’s not just plants that have diversified to survive, birds have learned how to maximise on available food sources, sometimes by devious means.
A number of birds have learned how to detour the flower head where the pollen is stored, and go straight to the source by pushing their bills through the side of the bloom, thus stealing the nectar without pollinating the plant.
Such thieves include:
- Redwinged starling
- Cape bulbul
- Cape rock thrush
- Cape white-eye
- Some weavers and sunbirds
The fluttering long-tailed Cape sugarbirds have to visit about 300 Protea flowers each day in autumn and winter just to meet their energy needs. The open flower heads mean the nectar is easily accessible and they don’t have to resort to stealing.
Nearer the ground, hardy, sandstone-loving Ericas flower in millions of tiny pinks, purples, reds, green, and white. There are over 500 types of Erica in the Cape, in comparison to just 23 species in Europe. Shimmering orange breasted sunbirds are specialist Erica feeders, and in an extraordinary adaptation, some long tubular Erica flowers have developed a curve to exactly match the sunbird’s elongated arched bill.