Bamboos are classified in a subfamily of the grasses (Poaceae). Some of the woody bamboo species grow up to 40 m tall. Probably more than 20 native species of woody bamboos occur in Guatemala, most of them in the humid highlands. They grow between 1 and 30 m tall. Some species climb into the canopy of surrounding trees. In addition about eight species of herbaceous bambus including bamboo-like basal grasses occur in Guatemala.
The flowering cycles of most woody bamboos span multiple years up to several decades. Typically, the flowering of a population of a mountain massif is synchronized, followed by mast seeding. Bamboos produce nutritious seeds similar to other grasses, including important grain such as corn (Zea mays), wheat (Triticum spp.), rye (Secale cereale), barley (Hordeum vulgare), rice (Oryza spp.), and oat (Avena sativa). Areas with mast-seeding bamboo offer therefore a feast for wildlife including birds.
In Guatemala, four bird species are generally associated with seeding bamboo, Blue Seedeater Amaurspiza concolor, Slaty Finch Haplospiza rustica, Slate-colored Seedeater Sporophila schistacea, and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove Claravis mondetoura. They are irregularly occurring in their large Neotropical ranges because of their more or less tight dependence on seeding bamboo.
Many other birds take advantage of the massive food source of bamboo seeds, such as Barred Parakeet, Black-capped Siskin, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, and Spotted Towhee among the resident birds, and Indigo Bunting and Rose-breasted Grosbeak among the Nearctic-Neotropical migratory birds. Many more bird species take advantage of the dense structure of bamboo thickets for nesting and feeding habitat, including large birds such as Horned Guan and Highland Guan, chachalacas, and passerines such as brushfinches and nightingale-thrushes. The dense structure if bamboo thickets also provides pretective roostings sites for small resident and migratory birds.
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