Sightings of new species of birds across Donegal in recent days have been put down to a hoax by Mother Nature.
Householders in various parts of the county including Donegal Town, Letterkenny and Buncrana have spotted birds in their gardens with strange orange heads.
Birdwatch Ireland has been swamped with phonecalls and emails about the unusual visitors which resemble both House Sparrows and Starlings.
But the birds ARE Starlings and House Sparrows which have fallen prey to an unusual plant which gives of a dye when being pollinated by the birds.
A spokesman for Birdwatch Ireland revealed “Rather than being some exotic new visitor, these in fact ARE Starlings and House Sparrows that have been feeding on a plant called New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax).
“Though native to New Zealand, this species has been planted commonly in gardens around the country and has even become naturalised in the wild in many areas. Its high antler-like flower-stalks which grow out from the centre of a fan of long, narrow leaves are highly distinctive and will be familiar to many people.
“We are used to plants being pollinated by insects and even by the wind, but New Zealand Flax uses another method: it is pollinated by birds. The tubular flowers produce a rich, sweet nectar that many birds find irresistible.
“As they stick their beaks down into the flowers to feed, a small brush-like appendage dusts the tops of the birds’ heads with brightly coloured pollen, staining it a vivid orange or red colour. When they move on to feed from another flax flower, these birds bring the pollen with them, helping the plant to reproduce.”
The good news is that the staining on the bird’s crown feathers is only temporary and doesn’t cause them any discomfort or harm.
The Birdwatch Ireland spokesman added “They are probably completely unaware of how odd they look to our eyes. It is not at all surprising that people think they have seen a new species of bird, as the addition of such a vivid splash of colour to otherwise rather drab and muted species really catches the eye and stands out as something unusual.”
The spokesman added that is people spot any birds with unusual orange or red crown patches, please let them know at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01-2819878.Tags: