Feeding ecology and diet

Sharpbills mainly eat fruit and invertebrates. They either hop about the densely leafed canopy, or make short sallies among the outer twigs and leaves. In South America, sharpbills have been observed feeding alone, in pairs, and in mixed flocks alongside tanagers, cotingas, woodpeckers, wood-creepers, and other small birds. Spiders, ants, berries, and seeds have been found in sharpbill stomachs.

To find its food, a sharpbill will often hang upside down from a branch, like a tit. It will also probe with its bill into tufts of moss, epiphytes, fruit pods, and tightly rolled leaves. Often the bird will then open its bill to reveal arillate seeds, or insect egg cases concealed inside the leaves.

This foraging behavior, known as "pry-and-gape," has been observed in other members of the Icteridae family. Still, it is considered a unique specialization among the Neotropical tyrannids, and it may provide an evolutionary explanation for the sharpbill's namesake appendage.

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