My state of Michoacán has a wide variety of nectarivorous birds. (Nectarivorous: that’s my new word for this week!) Most, of course, are hummingbirds. A few are orioles. Hummingbirds use a kind of direct attack to access nectar, stabbing flowers frontally with their long beaks. Orioles may do the same, although with considerably less panache, or they may eliminate the middleman and pull the flowers off before feeding on their remains.

But we have one bird here, a bird that does not occur in the U.S., that prefers to obtain nectar with a sneak attack. Instead of going through the flower’s front door, it approaches it from behind, and uses its extremely specialized bill to pierce the flower at the base, obtaining a meal in a way that would go unnoticed by most forensic specialists. Think of it as a floral stab in the back.

This bird, in spite of what you may see in the photo at the top of this post, is named the Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. You may have noticed that avian nomenclature is a misogynistic business, and many bird names refer to features that only males possess. It’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.

You must be a male if you want to have that signature cinnamon-colored belly. Sorry, ladies; the guys get the sexy bellies and the name.

The most unusual thing about Flowerpiercers, a small neotropical genus, is that specialized bill. The lower mandible slants upward. So does the upper mandible, until the point where it continues beyond the tip of its counterpart, and then makes a sharp hook downward. Apparently this is the perfect design for floral backstabbing.

Behold, the very specialized bill.

The Cinnamon-rumped Flowerpiercer is the only flower-piercing game in town if you live in North America. (And yes, Mexico is part of North America, not Central or South America.) Its range extends as far as Nicaragua in Central America, where it is joined, in Costa Rica and Panama, by The Slaty Flowerpiercer. But the Andean region of South America is the true stronghold for this genus (Diglossa). There, you can take your pick from a wide array of Flowerpiercers; they may be Chestnut- or Gray-bellied; be White-sided, Black-throated, Golden-eyed, Scaled, Masked, or Moustached; be Bluish, Indigo, Rusty, Glossy, or Black; or hail from Venezuela or Mérida (Colombia, that is). One is even Greater.

I would love to meet them all. But only because I am not a flower.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.