Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Can fruit pulp meet the calcium needs of tropical frugivorous passerines during reproduction?

Mercedes S. Foster 

Biological Survey Division, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, National Museum of Natural History, PO Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013–7012, USA


Calcium is an important nutrient for birds, especially for eggshell production and the mineralization of the skeleton of developing young. In temperate regions insects and seeds that form the bulk of the diet of breeding passerines do not contain sufficient calcium to meet the needs of breeding females and young; these birds obtain their calcium by eating snails, woodlice and millipedes. Little is known about the way tropical frugivorous passerines meet their calcium needs. The calcium contents of fruits of 34 species eaten by birds during the breeding season in mature floodplain forest in south-eastern Peru were determined. The suitability of these fruits as calcium sources for hypothetical 10-g and 25-g birds and for 26 species of frugivore that breed at the study site was evaluated based on bird body weight and on the rictal width of the bill, which influences feeding. Fruits of five species in the study area appear to be suitable sources of calcium for birds ≤25 g, although those of Ficus killipii (Moraceae) are likely optimal. The latter contain a lot of calcium (2.48% dry weight of pulp or c. 4.15 mg per pulp per fruit) and are small enough (mean diam. = 9 mm) for most birds to swallow whole, and trees produce large crops. Snails, woodlice and millipedes are common in the area and also contain sufficient calcium to meet birds’ needs. In addition, birds could likely meet their calcium needs through geophagy at natural mineral licks.

(Received October 03 2012)

(Revised September 16 2013)

(Accepted September 19 2013)

(Online publication November 11 2013)

Key Words:

  • avian reproduction;
  • calcium;
  • eggshell;
  • fig;
  • fruit;
  • millipede;
  • mineral lick;
  • Peru;
  • snail;
  • woodlice


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