This post is also available in: Dutch.
Food in the rainy season, the animals in nature feast on its abundance. Those of you who like to feed the birds in your garden will observe a reduction in the number of guests visiting the feeding site during the rainy season. Most likely, only the seed eaters, like the dark brown Mofi (Black-faced Grassquit – Tiaris bicolor), the exotic Saffron Finch (Sicalis flaveola) or the local Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) will stop by to refuel on a daily basis, but even these animals will be seen less often. In itself this is a good thing because it means there’s plenty of food for the animals in the wild. Less fun for the avid bird lover, who might feel abandoned. One consolation, they will automatically return when the weather gets dryer.
Each animal has its own menu. Beside the seed eaters, among birds you also have fruit eaters, nectar eaters and meat eaters. On our island, many birds are opportunistic in the sense that they eat what’s at hand. This makes a lot of sense, considering that a specialist, an animal which focuses on only one type of food, has a hard time surviving on an island where the circumstances seasonally turn dry and harsh. Yet, Curacao does support specialists such as the hummingbirds who are feasting on nectar from flowers, and the mofi who specializes in seeds, with its specially developed beak to collect and crack these. If we take a closer look at the behavior of these two specialists we soon discover that they do apply opportunistic methods in order to survive after all. Science has discovered that hummingbirds, with their specially designed beaks for honey extraction, developed ingenious ways to capture insects. Additional proteins in the menu, a necessary addition to the sugary nectar. The mofi applies a different type of opportunism. It eats seeds of different plants but mostly grasses and similar organisms. Besides the native grass species, the animal also eats the seeds of exotic grasses used in gardens. It often includes the seeds of the Lantana camara in its menu, but it also appreciates dried grass seeds from commercial bird food. It is therefore not surprising that these creatures are frequently spotted around parakeet and parrot cages in gardens.
For most people the word fruit signifies the fruit that we love to eat ourselves. This fruit, like mangoes, kenepa’s and West-indian Cherry’s (Malpighia emarginata) are also on the menu of many animals including many birds, bats and insects. But the multitude of fruits of interest to wildlife are mainly fruits that we as humans never or almost never would eat.
One example is the orange fruit of the watakeli (Chinkswood – Bourreria succulenta), a plant regularly used in landscaping because of the fact that with regular watering it’ll stay green virtually year around. The white, fragrant flowers are a popular food source for hummingbirds (Common emerald – Chlorostilbon mellisugus & Ruby-topaz – Chrysolampis mosquitus) and Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are also happy to feed on them. The orange fruits the size of a blueberry are popular with the Ala Blanka (Bare-eyed pigeon – Patagioenas corensis).
Cactus fruits also appear on the menu of many animals. Not only the fruits of columnar cacti such as the datu (Ritterocereus griseus) and kadushi (Subpilocereus repandus) are being eaten, the fruits of leaf cacti like the Prickly pear (Opuntia wentiana) and tuna (Opuntia eliator) and even the small pink fruits of the Turk’s cap cactus (Melocactus sp.) are very popular. Iguanas and lizards, but also rabbits and trupials consider these fruits an essential source of nutrients and vitamins. Even humans consider the little pink fruits a delicacy. They are never to be found en masse, however, and only serve as a welcome addition to the lucky finder, not as the main food source of animals.
Would you like to have birds in the garden?
If you are a bird lover disappointed by the absence of your feathered friends during the rainy season, then the solution is simple. Ensure that (part of) your garden will look like a piece of (semi-natural) nature area. Make sure to plant the important food plants for your feathered guests, so that your garden will retain its restaurant function during the rainy season. In fact, by doing so you’ll increase the surface area of natural areas on the island a little, to a certain extend. The loss of habitat (living space), cause of our unbridled expansionism, is a major problem for many species. By allowing your garden to become part of a network of small green havens you will give many species a small, but perhaps vital helping hand. It is important not to use pesticides so that insects, like gladly seen butterflies, do not kick the bucket. Insects are also food for many birds, so ban those insecticides! In England this greening trend is going on for several years already, partly due to the efforts of bird lovers. We can do it too! Perhaps a goal for the new year?