Spiderhunters can be seen sunbirds on junk diet. After all, how do you explain the drab colours when rest of the Sunbirds are so shiny, beautiful and colourful? Well - spiderhunters are of the genus Arachnothera, part of sunbird family Nectariniidae. There are eleven species found in South and Southeastern Asia.
These birds (two of them found in India) were very high on my list of birds to see - but unfortunately, they are absent from my local areas of birding around my city so remained elusive during my visits to the birding around Chandigarh. Then I got a break - in the Zoological park of Dimapur early this year I saw a bird - Little Spiderhunter on a Banana plant flowers. Unfortunately, the sighting was just a flicker and it was gone. It did not meet my requirement of observing the bird to my satisfaction so that I could tick the bird on my life list - but the beginning was made and I stand by what I have felt for a long time - once the birds decides to show itself - it is just a matter of time before it gets ticked. My next birding was 3,000 km from Dimapur - Ganeshgudi in Karnataka. The bird - Little Spiderhunter visited the bird bath set out by the Old Magazine House and gave sightings on two days to my heart's content - I awed at the beak of the bird - peered through the camera and saw the bird - the beak - the flicking of its tongue as it sipped water and bathed itself. Now only the second bird remained - the bigger cousin of this bird found only in East India and further Eastwards - the Streaked Spiderhunter. I bigger cousin as little spiderhunter is 13-16cm - the Streaked spiderhunter is 17-20cm.
That sighting too was not too far away - in April I was in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh - and there it was - a flicker of the Streaked Spiderhunter - after that, the sightings were off and on - not for too long or as good as they were of the Little one - but good nevertheless. The bird seen in flight had a typical flight pattern - flap wings - fold them and become a rocket till the next flap. With the long and curved beaks - coupled with this flying we were soon seeing them flirting from the top of the tree canopies off and on.
The diet and the feeding of these birds require a special mention - their bills are long and almost twice the length of the head. The tongue forms a complete tube for most of the length of the beak - this beak-tube and the tongue is like an injection sucking nectar from the base of the flowers. Now, this is a wonderful and important way of pollination. These birds are also known as Nectar Robbers - they use the long bill and insert them from the side of the flowers to avoid being dabbed by the pollen - this tactic is called Nectar Robbing. The birds will eat spiders and are capable of extracting spiders from the centre of their webs - and that is not a small feat - the feat that earns them their name - Spiderhunters. With these two spiderhunters safely bagged - I am eagerly looking forward to the nine left - it may take time and effort as I have to travel out of my country to snap them.
|Oh my! Oh my! what a beak...|
|Little Spiderhunter in his own bathtub 😜|
|Okay - here goes the Streaked Spiderhunter - the only good shot I got of this bird in Arunachal|
|Range of Little Spiderhunter - see the break in range in India|
|Streaked Spiderhunter range|
Before I pen off - I too discovered an interesting fact about these birds while researching for this article - the nests are frequently parasitized byViolet Cuckoo, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, common Cuckoo, Large and Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo.