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New Life Stories

David Attenborough

Some hummingbirds live outside the tropics, in areas where can't rely on all year round nectar. The rufous hummingbird, a 4 gram midget, lives in Mexico, but in spring flies up to Alaska to breed. Needs regular feeding stations on the 2000 mile journey - just one missing feeder could be disastrous - chopping down a few trees could create an uncrossable gap. But people all along the route have come to welcome the hummers and have put up so many feeder stations that the migration corridor has widened appreciably, and a lot more birds are making the trip. Some of hosts go through tons of sugar a season.

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Difficult to study the top of the rainforest canopy. One method was to build a giant tower, and an Austrian group had done that in Venezuela. So DA and crew made difficult trip there as part of a series on birds. But when they got to the top, not a bird to be seen, despite Venezuela having over a thousand different species. Turned out that the tower had been built with the aid of a big Russian Sikorsky heavy lift helicopter. Made repeated trips, and in doing so, blew every flower and fruit off the trees below, so there was nothing to lure birds.

When NZ separated from Australia about 80 million years ago, at a time when there were few mammals. The birds then filled the ecological niches that mammals do in other environments. The tallest moas browsed on tree branches, like giraffes. Smaller moas cropped bushes as goats do. The kakapo, a parrot, has turned into a rabbit, and the short-tailed bat a shrew.

DA hates rats, so he was thrilled when sitting on a toilet in India, to have one leap up between his thighs and disappear into his bedroom.

Nectar was first bribe in history of Earth. Pollen is quite expensive for plant to make, bc it contains lot of protein. Nectar is just sugar solution. But it has to be carefully calibrated - there must be enough to make a visit worthwhile, but not so much that sated and doesn't need to visit another plant to pass on the pollen collected incidentally.

There is another complication - pollen is wasted if the insect goes to another species for next nectar stop. So specialised nectaries evolved, where only a particular type of mouthpiece would fit. Insects with those specialised mouthpieces then prefer those plants because can be confident that nectar there just for them.

The honey-guide is a bird that has evolved to co-operate with honey badgers to lead them to trees where bees are storing honey (with a special rattling call). The bird doesn't want the honey; it wants the beeswax, which it gets when the badger rips the tree apart to break into the hive. Then, when humans appeared, the honey-guide transferred it's experience with honey-badgers to a slightly different helper.

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