🐾 Maybe the reason I love animals so much, is because the only time they have broken my heart is when theirs has stopped beating.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Farm Talk - Sunny, the Black Sunbird

Sunny, the Black Sunbird Female

I feel very sorry for Gary Craye of Hartebeespoort (his letter in “In Your Garden” June/July 2003 issue), as I have had a similar experience to M. Joubert of Sedgefield.

I had a resident pair of Black Sunbirds on our 8,5ha smallholding in Tarlton (district Krugersdorp), nesting in a (high!) Blue gum tree outside the Cottage kitchen. After a severe windstorm, I found two tiny chicks (identity unknown to me at that stage) on the lawn, one dying shortly after I had picked them up.

I scoured the trees for signs of any nests, only to notice one hanging from a branch by a couple of threads, much too high for me to reach or repair. After closer inspection, the obvious long beak was an indication that I had a little Sunbird on my hands. I have reared many little chicks, all seed, fruit or insect eaters, but have never dealt with a nectar feeder!

In a panic, I phoned our local (bird expert) veterinarian, who told me of a product (powder) which you mixed with water to feed nectar feeders. I rushed out, bought a supply of the nectar and shortly the little Sunbird was greedily feeding from the syringe. It was a little female (brown and stripy) and I have yet to come across a more loving and intelligent bird.

At night, she would sleep in her basket, surrounded by warm towels and during the day, she would perch either in her cage or on my shoulder, graduating to sleeping on top of the cage. During the day, she would flit around the house, following me from room to room. When hunger struck, she would perch on my shoulder, begging for food by pushing her beak into my ear, neck and anywhere else she saw fit! I had some Kniphophia (Red Hot Pokers) and various vines and flowering creepers in the garden – I would pick the flowers for her and she immediately would dip into them, sucking at the nectar, begging for more.


Then came the day of her first sojourn outside. I hoped and prayed that she would be safe, and as I walked outside with her perching on my shoulder, she surveyed her surrounds, cocking her little head from side to side. Then suddenly she took off, flitting around madly, tweeting in her excitement. I brushed aside a couple of tears, ready to say goodbye, but the next instant she was back on my shoulder, insisting on my cupped hand to nestle in (her favourite place whenever I would take an afternoon nap on the couch).

These outings continued for about two weeks until, as soon as she saw the open door, she would go out, staying out the whole day, only coming home at dusk, to contentedly sit on top of her cage, turning her head away and sneering at the Avian nectar being offered her – she’d had better than that!

I noticed that nectar was actually quite a small part of her diet, as she spent most of the day snatching insects off tree branches and leaves.

Then Sunny (as I called her) discovered a male and, of course, they lived happily ever after! I was very sad to say goodbye to such a WONDERFUL little creature, but at the same time, SO thankful to have been allowed to have a peek into the wonderful world of one of God’s greatest creations – birds.
Black Sunbird Male

Black Sunbird Nest

Sunbird facts
The family ranges in size from the 5-gram Black-Bellied Sunbird to the Spectacles Spiderhunter , at about 30 grams. Like the hummingbirds, sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in metallic colours. 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. 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 and strong down-curved beaks.

Species of sunbirds that live in high altitudes will enter torpor while roosting at night, lowering their body temperature and entering a state of low activity and responsiveness.

Distribution and habitat
Sunbirds are tropical species, with representatives from Africa to Australasia; the greatest variety of species is in Africa, where the group probably arose. Most species are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants. The sunbirds occur over the entirely of the family's range, whereas the spiderhunters are restricted to Asia.

The sunbirds and spiderhunters occupy a wide range of habitats, with a majority of species being found in primary rain forest, 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 4900m.
Sunbirds 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.

They are generally monogamous and often territorial, although a few species of sunbirds have lekking behaviour. Up to three eggs are laid in a purse-shaped suspended nest. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs alone, although the male assists in rearing the young after hatching.

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 cage bird 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.

Orange breasted Sunbird

Collared Sunbird

Nectarinia_regia Sunbird

Plain-throated Sunbird

Purple-rumped Sunbird

Red-chested Sunbird

Crimson Sunbird - Male above and Female below

Pics from Wikipedia



  1. Sunbirds are very small birds, 3 to 7 inches (8 to 16 centimeters) long, resembling New World hummingbirds. The males of most sunbird species are brilliantly colored with combinations of iridescent, metallic green, purple, blue and black along with spots and patches of yellow, orange and red
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  2. Many birds especialy the males are especialy colorful

  3. Hi Flu-Bird, and thank you vir visiting my blog. The male sunbirds are absolutely stunning, but as you probably know, the females are so drab they're difficult to recognise. Do you have a blog?




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