As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Rare Australian bird farms nourishing manna from trees

3 March 2016

Manna miner
Graeme Chapman

An endangered Tasmanian songbird doesn’t have to wait for manna from heaven: it goes out and gathers its own.

Forty-spotted Pardalote.jpg
The forty-spotted pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) is the first Australian bird found to deliberately encourage trees to release manna, a sugary crystallised sap. In doing so it not only provides food for its young but might also engineer the environment in a way that benefits other Tasmanian animals.

Samuel Case and Amanda Edworthy of the Australian National University in Canberra spent the second half of 2014 monitoring the birds, whose population has plummeted by 60 per cent in the last 18 years. “We were ecstatic and surprised to discover a novel foraging behaviour,” says Case.

The birds deliberately clip the leaf stalks of the manna-gum tree, a species of eucalyptus, with their bills. In many cases the tree responds to the wounds by exuding sticky and nutritious manna gum over the next few days, which the birds harvest. Biologists call this foraging behaviour “mining” or “farming”.

“Mining for tree exudates is an unusual foraging behaviour among birds,” says Case. “This is the first record of an Australian bird that mines trees.”

“The behaviour of the forty-spotted pardalotes is strikingly similar to North American sapsuckers,” says Laurie Eberhardt at Valparaiso University in Indiana, who studies similar behaviour in North American birds. “Especially interesting is the way the pardalotes returned to the same holes and widened them over time.” This is something that sapsuckers do too.

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