Monday, 9 July 2012

Hello Aloe

In South Africa, at least 73 bird species in 24 families have been recorded feeding on 14 Aloe species and 8 other flowering plants and trees, but this old list is far from exhaustive. Occasional nectar-feeding is very common and perhaps 1,600 bird species worldwide (nearly 1 in 6) feed on nectar to one degree or another. In southern Africa, many Aloe species flower during the dry winter season and offers copious dilute nectar to a variety of birds. Overall bird abundance can increase 2–3 fold at the peak of nectar availability. Nearly 50% of all birds recorded in Suikerbosrand were observed feeding on Aloe marlothii nectar. Only two species of sunbird were observed feeding on A. marlothii nectar, and both occurred in low abundance. This is because Aloes are one of the species of flower that rely on generalist nectarivores for pollination, which prefer glucose and fructose type sugars, while plants that rely on specialist nectarivores for pollination produce sucrose.  

All the following photos were taken in a few hours in the early afternoon at the Aloe stands at Meijersrus – a working stock farm with various accommodation options at the De Rust side of Meiringspoort. Aloe ferox is the large Aloe most common in the Klein Karoo. Photo quality varies tremendously due to the fast moving cloud which produced occasional rays of sunshine, but generally had me popping the flash up and down all the time. Most commonly observed were Cape Weavers and Streaky-headed Seedeaters. The later appeared to be eating immature ovaries – perhaps for developing seeds, although they may have been eating the nectaries too. They definitely destroy the flowers and can't be considered pollinators. In addition, the Cape Sparrows were present, but appeared to have built a couple of nests in the spiny succulent leaves – and were not observed feeding on the nectar. A photo of a Familiar Chat shows that species using a spiny leaf as convenient perch during its foraging activities.

A Malachite Sunbird appeared very territorial, spending a lot of time chasing away a female Greater Double-collared Sunbird. The male of the later species spent more time defending a patch of Tecoma capensis, perhaps not wishing to pick a fight with the green goblin. While activity seemed intense in the morning – I could not stick around to take photos as I was conducting a survey up Meiringspoort. Undoubtedly a dedicated photographer with more time at this spot will come up with even more species and better photos!

Male Cape Weaver

Cape Bunting, foraging on the ground around the Aloes

Male Cape House Sparrow - guarding his nest

Familiar Chat

Cape White-eye

Female Cape Weaver - not the apricot colored head from the Aloe pollen

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Malachite Sunbird

Not at the Aloes - Victorin's Warbler from the Kammanassie

Red-billed Quelea (I think!)

Red-winged Starling

Streaky-headed Seedeater

Venus and Pleides over the Kammanassie by moonlight


  1. In our garden the weavers/sparrows/red bishops/ Cape canaries rip the flowers off the aloes. I thought they were simply stealing the nectar, and compensating for short beaks. I need to see which bird it is, perhaps the Cape canaries going after 'developing seeds'?

    1. Hi Diana, some of the short-billed species do simply tear a whole in the corolla to steal nectar. Canaries may be getting at developing ovaries i.e. very young seeds. A bit hard to be confident just from watching them chew bits of flowers up though.


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