Neem (Azadirachta indica) – An Important Food Source for Garden Birds

posted in: Feeding-plants, Plants, Reports | 10

Introduction
“The Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) is native to some countries in tropical/semi-tropical regions notably the Indian subcontinent and has a long history in Malaysia. It is known by many names all over the world and is renowned as a ‘healing tree’. It grows to a height of 12-15 meters, some times taller, and has a tendency to shed its leaves twice a year followed by flowering and fruiting (Barwick 2004). The flowers are white and fragrant and produced on inflorescences. The fruit is oval, approximately 1×1.5 cm in size and has a skin covering, a thin pulp and a hard seed (left: leaf, flowers and fruits).

“Every part of the Neem tree is used for some purpose – medicinal (pharmaceutical), cosmetic (herbal shampoos and soaps), agricultural (pest and insect repellent) and veterinary (wildlife and bird food).

“Having chosen to grow a Neem tree in our garden to support the environment, we have found it a source of food for birds either directly or indirectly (right).

“Observations made here are based on more than 10 years of watching birds feed in our present garden. Some photographs are provided to support the observations but the dense nature of the tree creates some limits to photography. All photographs presented here were taken with a Nikon D90 SLR with a Tamron AF Zoom 200-500 mm lens, usually at 500 mm, handheld with no flash used.

Birds that Feed ‘directly’ on Neem Fruit
“Some birds feed directly on the Neem fruit. Some of these include the:
1. Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier analis)
2. Black-naped Oriole (Oriolus chinensis)
3. Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis)
4. Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis strigata)
5. Pink-necked Green-pigeon (Treron vernans)
6. Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata hodgsoni)
7. Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea)

“Of these the Yellow-vented Bulbul is the commonest feeder on the Neem fruit. It also feeds the fruit to its young. It has the habit of plucking ripe fruit and then taking it to the flat part of our roof (above the patio) to work off the outer covering/skin before swallowing the pulp and seed (above). At peak fruiting we see large numbers of these empty shells on the roof daily (below).

“The Black-naped Oriole is another bird that appreciates the Neem fruits as a food source and readily feeds its young/fledglings with it. Often they will bring their juveniles to the tree and feed them many mouthfuls (below).

“The Common Myna is an occasional feeder on Neem fruit (below left)). I suspect so is the Jungle Myna (Acridotheres fuscus torquatus) but have yet to formally document this.

“The Asian Glossy Starling (above right) and Pink-necked Green Pigeon (below left) also feed on Neem fruit and sometimes come in flocks to our tree. Asian Koels also feed on the Neem fruit and I have seen them use it as part of a courtship display (below right)’

“The Lineated Barbet, a daily visitor to our home, relishes the Neem fruit and often will chase off competitors (other Lineated Barbets). When the tree is fruiting, we constantly have a pair feeding in the tree. They are very particular to pick only the ripe fruit and will consume large volumes. The composite (above) shows how they deal with the fruit. Once plucked, the fruit is squeezed to push out the outer covering/skin and then rubbed against a branch to get it off (below).

Birds that Feed ‘Indirectly’ using the Neem Tree
“Many birds feed ‘indirectly’ on the Neem tree. They catch insects (attracted by Neem flowers) or other invertebrates on the tree. They are very common, daily visitors or resident at our home. Some of these include the:
1. Oriental Magpie Robin (Copsychus saularis musicus)
2. Pied Triller (Lalage nigra striga)
3. Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia)
4. Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis malacensis)
5. Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)

“Others use the Neem tree as a perch to hawk for insects attracted by the flowers. They come either daily or seasonally. Some of these include the:
1. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater (Merops leschenaulti leschenaultia)
2. Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis viridis)
3. Blue-tailed Bee-eater (Merops philippinus philippinus)
4. Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica)
5. Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (Ficedula zanthopygia)

Discussion
“The Neem tree is an exciting tree to have in an urban garden as it attracts many birds (Barwick 2004), especially when flowering and fruiting. It is obvious that the Neem fruit is a favourite/important source of food for many species outlined above. The Neem tree starts to fruit after a few years of growth and produces large volumes of fruit twice a year. What puzzles me is that the volume of flesh (pulp) is small compared to the large seed, thus many fruits need to be eaten. The seeds are passed clean and can be often seen in our garden or on the roof. Do the birds like the fruit because it has a sweet pulp? Or rather because it has medicinal value which the birds know at an innate level? There has been data supporting the Azadirachtin founding Neem fruits kills bacteria and other parasites (Tipu 2002). The Neem seed can be toxic but because the birds swallow the Neem pulp and seeds without crushing them, hence they do not ingest any large doses of the toxic metabolites. Other animals also eat the Neem fruit in our garden, notably the Palm Civet and possibly bats. All these together with the birds help propagate the Neem tree.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
29th October 2012

References
1. Barwick (2004). Tropical and subtropical trees – A worldwide encyclopedia guide. Thames & Hudson, London.
2. Tipu, M. A., Pasha, T. N., Ali, Z. (2002). Comparative Efficacy of Salinomycin Sodium and Neem Fruit (Azadirachta Indica) as Feed Additive Anticoccidials in Broilers. International Journal of Poultry Science. 2002, Volume 1 (4), Pg 91-93. (available from http://www.doaj.org/doaj?func=abstract&id=316017).

10 Responses

  1. Daisy O'Neill

    Dear Amar,

    Just got back from an expedition trip and lots to sort out and to catch up.
    Nice and informative article from your own backyard. What a lovely tree to have that could bring so much observation and joy in your future retirement.

    All best!

    Daisy O’Neill

    • Thanks Daisy. A definite favorite for the neighborhood birds & some squabbles when fruiting.
      Retirement is another word for re-tyre-ment. So when that happens in 5-6 years I may find my self on a new road, a path less travelled 😉

      Amar

  2. An excellent commentary on the ubiquitous neem. Thanks for the write-up and for the share.

  3. Wendy Low

    love your article and have shared it with my friends on Facebook ….
    Thank you very much ….

  4. […] birds throughout the native range of the Neem tree certainly feed on the fruit of the tree without ill effect; this is one of the main ways that the seeds are dispersed. It’s the […]

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