The sunbirds and spiderhunters make up a family, Nectariniidae, of passerine birds. They are small, slender passerines from the Old World, usually with downward-curved bills. Many are brightly coloured, often with iridescent feathers, particularly in the males. Many species also have especially long tail feathers. Their range extends through most of Africa to the Middle East, South Asia, South-east Asia and southern China, to Indonesia, New Guinea and northern Australia. Species diversity is highest in equatorial regions.

There are 145 species in 16 genera. Most sunbirds feed largely on nectar, but will also eat insects and spiders, especially when feeding their young. Flowers that prevent access to their nectar because of their shape (for example, very long and narrow flowers) are simply punctured at the base near the nectaries, from which the birds sip the nectar.[1] Fruit is also part of the diet of some species. Their flight is fast and direct, thanks to their short wings.

The sunbirds have counterparts in two very distantly related groups: the hummingbirds of the Americas and the honeyeaters of Australia. The resemblances are due to convergent evolution brought about by a similar nectar-feeding lifestyle.[2] Some sunbird species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but they usually perch to feed.

Sunbirds and spiderhunters
♂ Vigors's sunbird (Aethopyga vigorsii) Photograph by Shantanu Kuveskar
Vigors's sunbird from Maharashtra, India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Passeroidea
Family: Nectariniidae
Vigors, 1825

15, see text


The spectacled spiderhunter is the largest species of sunbird

The family ranges in size from the 5-gram black-bellied sunbird to the spectacled spiderhunter, at about 45 grams. Like the hummingbirds, sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in iridescent colours.[3] In addition to this the tails of many species are longer in the males, and overall the males are larger. Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding.[4] The spiderhunters, of the genus Arachnothera, are distinct in appearance from the other members of the family. They are typically larger than the other sunbirds, with drab brown plumage that is the same for both sexes, and long, down-curved beaks.[3]

In metabolic behaviour similar to that of Andes hummingbirds,[5] species of sunbirds that live at high altitudes or latitudes will enter torpor while roosting at night, lowering their body temperature and entering a state of low activity and responsiveness.[3][6]

The moulting regimes of sunbirds are complex, being different in different species. Many species have no eclipse plumage, but do have juvenile plumage. Some species do show duller plumage in the off-season. In the dry months of June−August, male copper sunbirds and variable sunbirds lose much of their metallic sheen. In some instances different populations of the same species can display variation in different molting regimes.[3]

Distribution and habitat

Sunbirds are a tropical Old World family, with representatives in Africa, Asia and Australasia. In Africa they are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar but are also distributed in Egypt. In Asia the group occurs along the coasts of the Red Sea as far north as Israel, with a gap in their distribution till Iran, from where the group occurs continuously as far as southern China and Indonesia. In Australasia the family occurs in New Guinea, north eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands. They are generally not found on oceanic islands, with the exception of the Seychelles. The greatest variety of species is found in Africa, where the group probably arose. Most species are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants. Sunbirds occur over the entire family's range, whereas the spiderhunters are restricted to Asia.[3]

The sunbirds and spiderhunters occupy a wide range of habitats, with a majority of species being found in primary rainforest, but other habitats used by the family including disturbed secondary forest, open woodland, open scrub and savannah, coastal scrub and alpine forest. Some species have readily adapted to human modified landscapes such as plantations, gardens and agricultural land. Many species are able to occupy a wide range of habitats from sea level to 4900 m.[3]

Behaviour and ecology

Sunbird are active diurnal birds that generally occur in pairs or occasionally in small family groups. A few species occasionally gather in larger groups, and sunbird will join with other birds to mob potential predators, although sunbirds will also aggressively target other species, even if they are not predators, when defending their territories.[3]


Nectarinia dussumieri feeding young
Female Seychelles sunbird at the nest with prey

A sunbird that breed outside of the equatorial regions are mostly seasonal breeders, with the majority of these species breeding in the wet season. This timing reflects the increased availability of insect prey for the growing young. Where species, like the buff-throated sunbird, breed in the dry season, it is thought to be associated with the flowering of favoured food plants. Species of sunbird in the equatorial areas breed throughout the year. They are generally monogamous and often territorial, although a few species of sunbirds have lekking behaviour.

The nests of sunbirds are generally purse-shaped, enclosed, suspended from thin branches with generous use of spiderweb. The nests of the spiderhunters are different, both from the sunbirds and in some cases from each other. Some, like the little spiderhunter, are small woven cups attached to the underside of large leaves; that of the yellow-eared spiderhunter is similarly attached but is a long tube. The nests of spiderhunters are inconspicuous, in contrast to those of the other sunbirds which are more visible. In most species the female alone constructs the nest. Up to four eggs are laid. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs alone, although the male assists in rearing the nestlings.[7] In the spiderhunters both sexes help to incubate the eggs.[7] The nests of sunbirds and spiderhunters are often targeted by brood parasites such as cuckoos and honeyguides.


Loten's Sunbird Cinnyris lotenius Male DSCN0107 (7)
Sunbird drinking nectar from typical bird-pollinated flower

As nectar is a primary food source for sunbirds, they are important pollinators in African ecosystems. Sunbird-pollinated flowers are typically long, tubular, and red-to-orange in colour, showing convergent evolution with many hummingbird-pollinated flowers in the Americas.[8] A key difference is that sunbirds cannot hover, so sunbird-pollinated flowers and inflorescences are typically sturdier than hummingbird-pollinated flowers, with an appropriate landing spot from which the bird can feed.[9][10] Sunbirds are critical pollinators for many iconic African plants, including proteas,[11] aloes,[12] Erica,[10] Erythrina coral trees,[8] and bird-of-paradise flowers.[13] Specialization on sunbirds vs other pollinators is thought to have contributed to plant speciation, including the exceptionally high flora diversity in southern Africa.[14][15]

Relationship with humans

Overall the family has fared better than many others, with only seven species considered to be threatened with extinction. Most species are fairly resistant to changes in habitat, and while attractive the family is not sought after by the cagebird trade, as they have what is considered an unpleasant song and are tricky to keep alive. Sunbirds are considered attractive birds and readily enter gardens where flowering plants are planted to attract them. There are a few negative interactions, for example the scarlet-chested sunbird is considered a pest in cocoa plantations as it spreads parasitic mistletoes.[3]

List of genera

The family contains 145 species divided into 16 genera:[16] For more detail, see list of sunbird species.


  1. ^ Geerts, S.; Pauw, A. (2009). "Hyper-specialization for long-billed bird pollination in a guild of South African plants: the Malachite Sunbird pollination syndrome". South African Journal of Botany. 75 (4): 699–706. doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2009.08.001.
  2. ^ Prinzinger, R.; Schafer T.; Schuchmann K.L. (March 1992). "Energy metabolism, respiratory quotient and breathing parameters in two convergent small bird species : the fork-tailed sunbird Aethopyga christinae (Nectariniidae) and the Chilean Hummingbird Sephanoides sephanoides (Trochilidae)". Journal of Thermal Biology. 17 (2): 71–79. doi:10.1016/0306-4565(92)90001-V.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Cheke, Robert; Mann, Clive (2008). "Family Nectariniidae (Sunbirds)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Christie, David (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 13: Penduline-tits to Shrikes. Barcelona: Lynx Editions. pp. 196–243. ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3.
  4. ^ Paton, D. C.; Collins, B. G. (1989). "Bills and tongues of nectar-feeding birds: A review of morphology, function and performance, with intercontinental comparisons". Australian Journal of Ecology. 14 (4): 473–506. doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.1989.tb01457.x. ISSN 1442-9993.
  5. ^ Altshuler, Douglas L.; Dudley, Robert (15 August 2002). "The ecological and evolutionary interface of hummingbird flight physiology". Journal of Experimental Biology. 205 (16): 2325–2336. PMID 12124359 – via
  6. ^ Downs, Colleen; Mark Brown (January 2002). "Nocturnal Heterothermy And Torpor In The Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)". Auk. 119 (1): 251–260. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0251:NHATIT]2.0.CO;2.
  7. ^ a b Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-1-85391-186-6.
  8. ^ a b Bruneau, Anne (1997). "Evolution and homology of bird pollination syndromes in Erythrina (Leguminosae)". American Journal of Botany. 84 (1): 54–71. doi:10.2307/2445883. ISSN 1537-2197. JSTOR 2445883.
  9. ^ Barrett, Spencer C. H.; Cole, William W.; Anderson, Bruce (May 2005). "Botany: Specialized bird perch aids cross-pollination". Nature. 435 (7038): 41–42. Bibcode:2005Natur.435...41A. doi:10.1038/435041a. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 15875009.
  10. ^ a b Siegfried, W. R.; Rebelo, A. G.; Prŷs-Jones, R. P.; Prys-Jones, R. P. (1985). "Stem Thickness of Erica Plants in Relation to Avian Pollination". Oikos. 45 (1): 153. doi:10.2307/3565234. JSTOR 3565234.
  11. ^ Hargreaves, Anna L.; Johnson, Steven D.; Nol, Erica (2004). "Do floral syndromes predict specialization in plant pollination systems? An experimental test in an "ornithophilous" African Protea". Oecologia. 140 (2): 295–301. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1495-5. ISSN 1432-1939. PMID 15168105.
  12. ^ Ratsirarson, J (1995). "Pollination ecology of Aloe divaricata, Berger (Liliaceae): an endemic plant species of south-west Madagascar". South African Journal of Botany. 61 (5): 249–252. doi:10.1016/S0254-6299(15)30531-7.
  13. ^ Frost, S. K.; Frost, P. G. H. (1981). "Sunbird pollination of Strelitzia nicolai". Oecologia. 49 (3): 379–384. Bibcode:1981Oecol..49..379F. doi:10.1007/BF00347603. ISSN 0029-8549. PMID 28310001.
  14. ^ Valente, Luis M.; Manning, John C.; Goldblatt, Peter; Vargas, Pablo (2012-07-01). "Did Pollination Shifts Drive Diversification in Southern African Gladiolus? Evaluating the Model of Pollinator-Driven Speciation". The American Naturalist. 180 (1): 83–98. doi:10.1086/666003. ISSN 0003-0147. PMID 22673653.
  15. ^ Johnson Steven D. (2010-02-12). "The pollination niche and its role in the diversification and maintenance of the southern African flora". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 365 (1539): 499–516. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0243. PMC 2838267. PMID 20047876.
  16. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Dippers, leafbirds, flowerpeckers, sunbirds". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 30 January 2019.

External links


The asities are a family of birds, Philepittidae, that are endemic to Madagascar. The asities consist of four species in two genera. The Neodrepanis species are known as sunbird-asities and were formerly known as false sunbirds.Philepitta is now the type-genus of a new bird family, the Philepittidae, into which the Asities of Madagascar have been placed.

Beautiful sunbird

The beautiful sunbird (Cinnyris pulchella; formerly placed in the genus Nectarinia) is a sunbird. It is native to tropical Africa, its range extending from Senegal and Guinea in the west to Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya in the east.


Cinnyris is a genus of sunbirds. Its members are sometimes included in Nectarinia. They are generally known as double-collared sunbirds because the fringe of their bib usually includes a band of contrastingly coloured feathers.The sunbirds are a group of very small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed.

The genus was introduced by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier in 1816. The type species was subsequently designated as the splendid sunbird. The name Cinnyris is from the Ancient Greek kinnuris, an unknown small bird mentioned by Hesychius of Alexandria.It is suspected that the genus is polyphyletic and the positions of many are unresolved:The genus contains 56 species:

Olive-bellied sunbird, Cinnyris chloropygius

Tiny sunbird, Cinnyris minullus

Eastern Miombo sunbird, Cinnyris manoensis

Western Miombo sunbird, Cinnyris gertrudis – split from eastern Miombo sunbird

Southern double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris chalybeus

Neergaard's sunbird, Cinnyris neergaardi

Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris stuhlmanni

Whyte’s double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris whytei – split from Ludwig's double-collared sunbird

Prigogine's double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris prigoginei

Ludwig's double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris ludovicensis

Northern double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris reichenowi

Greater double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris afer

Regal sunbird, Cinnyris regius

Rockefeller's sunbird, Cinnyris rockefelleri

Eastern double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris mediocris

Usambara double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris usambaricus – split from eastern double-collared sunbird

Forest double-collared sunbird, Cinnyris fuelleborni

Moreau's sunbird, Cinnyris moreaui

Beautiful sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus

Loveridge's sunbird, Cinnyris loveridgei

Marico sunbird, Cinnyris mariquensis

Shelley's sunbird, Cinnyris shelleyi

Hofmann's sunbird, Cinnyris hofmanni

Congo sunbird, Cinnyris congensis

Red-chested sunbird, Cinnyris erythrocerca

Black-bellied sunbird, Cinnyris nectarinioides

Purple-banded sunbird, Cinnyris bifasciatus

Tsavo sunbird, Cinnyris tsavoensis - sometimes included in C. bifasciatus

Violet-breasted sunbird, Cinnyris chalcomelas

Pemba sunbird, Cinnyris pembae

Orange-tufted sunbird, Cinnyris bouvieri

Palestine sunbird, Cinnyris oseus

Shining sunbird, Cinnyris habessinicus

Splendid sunbird, Cinnyris coccinigaster

Johanna's sunbird, Cinnyris johannae

Superb sunbird, Cinnyris superbus

Rufous-winged sunbird, Cinnyris rufipennis

Oustalet's sunbird, Cinnyris oustaleti

White-bellied sunbird, Cinnyris talatala

Variable sunbird, Cinnyris venustus

Dusky sunbird, Cinnyris fuscus

Ursula's sunbird, Cinnyris ursulae

Bates's sunbird, Cinnyris batesi

Copper sunbird, Cinnyris cupreus

Purple sunbird, Cinnyris asiaticus

Olive-backed sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis

Apricot-breasted sunbird, Cinnyris buettikoferi

Flame-breasted sunbird, Cinnyris solaris

Souimanga sunbird, Cinnyris sovimanga

Abbott's sunbird, Cinnyris abbotti

Seychelles sunbird, Cinnyris dussumieri

Malagasy green sunbird, Cinnyris notatus

Humblot's sunbird, Cinnyris humbloti

Anjouan sunbird, Cinnyris comorensis

Mayotte sunbird, Cinnyris coquerellii

Loten's sunbird, Cinnyris lotenius

Collared sunbird

The collared sunbird, (Hedydipna collaris), is a sunbird. The sunbirds are a group of very small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Collared sunbird is in fact mainly insectivorous.

Sunbird flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time.

The collared sunbird is a common breeder across most of sub-Saharan Africa. Two or three eggs are laid in a suspended nest in a tree. It is a seasonal migrant within its range.

Collared sunbirds are tiny, only 9–10 cm long. They have short thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to nectar feeding.

The adult male has glossy green upperparts and head with a yellow belly and narrow purple breast band. The female is a duller green above and entirely yellow below.

This species is found in forests near water.

Crimson sunbird

The crimson sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) is a species of bird in the sunbird family which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding the young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time.

They are also the unofficial national bird of Singapore

Greater double-collared sunbird

The greater double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris afer) (formerly placed in the genus Nectarinia), is a small bird in the sunbird family.

Loten's sunbird

The Loten's sunbird, long-billed sunbird or maroon-breasted sunbird, (Cinnyris lotenius) is a sunbird endemic to peninsular India and Sri Lanka. Named after Joan Gideon Loten, who was the Dutch governor of colonial Ceylon, it is very similar to the purple sunbird that is found in the same areas and also tends to hover at flowers for nectar, but can be distinguished by the longer bill, the maroon band on the breast and brownish wings. Like other sunbirds, it is also insectivorous and builds characteristic hanging nests.

Mozilla Calendar Project

The Mozilla Calendar Project is the name for the Mozilla project that led to the development of Sunbird calendar application and the Lightning integrated calendar. Sunbird and Lightning are both free software, released under the Mozilla tri-license: the Mozilla Public License, the GNU General Public License and the GNU Lesser General Public License.

Mozilla Sunbird

Mozilla Sunbird is a discontinued free and open-source, cross-platform calendar application that was developed by the Mozilla Foundation, Sun Microsystems and many volunteers. Mozilla Sunbird was described as "... a cross platform standalone calendar application based on Mozilla's XUL user interface language." Announced in July 2003, Sunbird was a standalone version of the Mozilla Calendar Project.

It was developed as a standalone version of the Lightning calendar and scheduling extension for the Mozilla Thunderbird and SeaMonkey mail clients. Development of Sunbird was ended with release 1.0 beta 1 to focus on development of Mozilla Lightning. As of 2019, the “latest development version” of Sunbird was still 1.0b1 from January 2010, and no later version has been announced. Unlike Lightning, Sunbird does not receive updates to its time zones database anymore.

Mrs. Gould's sunbird

The Mrs. Gould's sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae) is a species of bird in the Nectariniidae family.

It is found in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Hong Kong, India, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Its natural habitats are temperate forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

The Irish ornithologist Nicholas Vigors named the bird after Elizabeth Gould, a British artist and the wife of the naturalist John Gould.

Olive-backed sunbird

The olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis), also known as the yellow-bellied sunbird, is a species of sunbird found from Southern Asia to Australia.

Olive sunbird

The olive sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea) is a species of sunbird found in a large part of Africa south of the Sahel. It prefers forested regions, and is absent from drier, more open regions such as the Horn of Africa and most of south-central and south-western Africa. It is sometimes placed in the genus Nectarina.

The western subspecies (roughly west of the East African Rift) are sometimes split as the western olive sunbird, Cyanomitra obscura, in which case Cyanomitra olivacea becomes the eastern olive sunbird

Palestine sunbird

The Palestine sunbird (Cinnyris osea) is a small passerine bird of the sunbird family which is found in parts of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. It is also known as orange-tufted sunbird, a name which is also used for the similar orange-tufted sunbird (Cinnyris bouvieri), found further south in Africa. In 2015, it was declared the national bird of Palestine.

Pontiac Sunbird

The Pontiac Sunbird is a small car manufactured and marketed by Pontiac over two generations.

The first generation was marketed as a subcompact hatchback, wagon and coupe (1976–1980) — as a badge engineered variant of the Chevrolet Monza, which was based on the Chevrolet Vega.

The second generation (1982–1994) was marketed as notchback coupé, sedan, hatchback, station wagon, and convertible as a rebadged variant of General Motors' J-cars and was manufactured alongside the Cadillac Cimarron, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza, and Chevrolet Cavalier at GM's South Gate Assembly and Janesville Assembly plants.

The Sunbird nameplate ran for 18 years (with a hiatus during the 1981 and 1982 model years, as the 1982 model was marketed as the J2000) and was replaced in 1995 by the Pontiac Sunfire.

Purple-rumped sunbird

The purple-rumped sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) is a sunbird endemic to the Indian Subcontinent. Like other sunbirds, they are small in size, feeding mainly on nectar but sometimes take insects, particularly when feeding young. They can hover for short durations but usually perch to suck nectar from flowers. They build a hanging pouch nest made up of cobwebs, lichens and plant material. Males are brightly coloured but females are olive above and yellow to buff below. Males are easily distinguished from the purple sunbird by the light coloured underside while females can be told apart by their whitish throats.

Purple sunbird

The purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) is a small sunbird. Like other sunbirds they feed mainly on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. They have a fast and direct flight and can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird but often perch at the base of flowers. The males appear all black except in some lighting when the purple iridescence becomes visible. Females are olive above and yellowish below.

Scarlet-chested sunbird

The scarlet-chested sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis) is a species of bird in the Nectariniidae family. It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Snowbird (person)

"Snowbird" is a North American term for a person who migrates from the higher latitudes and colder climates of the northern United States and Canada in the southward direction in winter to warmer locales such as Florida, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, or elsewhere along the Sun Belt of the southern United States, Mexico, and areas of the Caribbean. Although snowbirds used to be associated with retired or older persons, snowbirds increasingly are of all ages. Many residents in the colder areas of the USA and Canada vacation in warmer southern locations to escape winter weather.

A sunbird is one who leaves the lower latitudes and hot climates of the southern United States and migrates northward in summer to cooler locales such as the high elevation of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming or elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains, the mountains of North Carolina, or Northern New England.

Variable sunbird

The variable sunbird (or yellow-bellied sunbird), Cinnyris venustus (formerly Nectarinia venusta), is a sunbird. The sunbirds are a group of small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time.

The variable sunbird is a fairly common resident breeder in equatorial Africa. Two eggs are laid in a suspended nest in a tree. This species is found in open woodland and cultivation.

Variable sunbirds are small, only 10 cm long. They have medium-length thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding.

The adult male has a glossy green head, throat and nape, and a maroon breast band. In most subspecies, the belly of the male is yellow, but in a few it is orange or white. The female has grey-brown upperparts and yellowish underparts, and an obvious pale supercilium. The eclipse male is like the female, but shows some green, especially on the throat. The call is a clear tew-tew-tew-tew-tew .


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.