How birds are important pollinators

July 29, 2014, 1 p.m.
warbler eating seeds

Photo: Bill Bouton/MNN Flickr Group

Cape May warbler sips nectar

This male Cape May warbler was photographed in his wintering grounds in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, where he spends his day using his semitubular tongue to collect nectar from flowers. During breeding season in the north, he searches for insects, mainly budworms on spruce trees. He is an example of a bird species that helps with plant pollination. Other bird species that are major players in pollination include hummingbirds, honeycreepers, and spiderhunters.

Ornithophily, the process by which plants are pollinated thanks to bird activity, is done mostly by nectar-eating birds. These plants attract their feathery pollinators by having flowers with bright colors, and pollen that is particularly sticky so it can cling to bird feathers. As birds flit from flower to flower, they drop off and pick up pollen with each meal. But it isn't just nectar-eating birds that do the job. Birds that feed on the insects that live off flower-bearing plants also play a role. When flowers are pollinated, plants can produce the fruits and seeds that feed other species. So next time you're planning out which plants to add to your garden to attract pollinators, don't forget about our feathered friends!

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.