Backyard Birds

Sunbirds and Spiderhunters

The sunbirds and spiderhunters are very small birds that mostly inhabit forested areas, however, some subspecies occur in patches of vegetation in deserts.

Many of its species have a very colorful plumage with iridescent colors. Like hummingbirds and the Australian honeyeaters, sunbirds are nectar eaters and they share some physical similarities, but they are not related. The resemblances are due to convergent evolution due to the similar nectar-feeding lifestyle. Like hummers, sunbirds can hover at flowers, but they usually perch to feed

Distribution / Range

The sunbirds are distributed in tropical Africa and the forests of southeast Asia, including the Greater Sundas and the Philippines. Most species are found in Africa.

Sunbirds are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants.


Sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic.

The adult males usually have brilliantly colored plumage, while the females and the young are duller in coloration.

Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush tipped tubular tongues – both adaptations to their nectar feeding.

Crimson-backed Sunbird (Leptocoma minima) - Female
Crimson Sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja

Diet / Feeding

Sunbirds mostly feed on nectar, although take insects particularly during the breeding season to feed their young and to satisfy their own need for increased protein in their diet during this demanding time.

They favor flowers with the highest sugar content and seek out those areas containing flowers with high energy nectar.

Even though sunbirds can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, most usually perch while taking nectar.

The males establish feeding territories on flower bearing shrubs and trees, which they aggressively defend.

Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers sunbirds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.

Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus)

Breeding / Nesting

Sunbird pairs build the purse-shaped, moss-covered nest together – although the female takes on the part of lining the nest. The nest is often suspended from the underside of large fern fronds, or thin branch of a low tree or shrub.

A clutch consists of 1 to 3 eggs (average 2) which are mostly incubated by the female for about 18 – 19 days. The male assists with feeding the young.

Female Sunbird
Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) - or Yellow-backed Sunbird - Female


Family: Nectariniidae

  • Genus Chalcoparia (sometimes included in Anthreptes)
    • Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Chalcoparia singalensis LC
    Genus Deleornis (sometimes included in Anthreptes)
    • Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, Deleornis fraseri LCGrey-headed Sunbird, Deleornis axillaris (sometimes considered subspecies of D. fraseri) LC
    Genus Anthreptes
    • Plain-backed Sunbird, Anthreptes reichenowi NTAnchieta’s Sunbird, Anthreptes anchietae LCPlain Sunbird, Anthreptes simplex LCPlain-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes malacensis LCRed-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes rhodolaemus NTMouse-brown Sunbird, Anthreptes gabonicus LCWestern Violet-backed Sunbird, Anthreptes longuemarei LCKenya Violet-backed Sunbird, Anthreptes orientalis LCUluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Anthreptes neglectus LCViolet-tailed Sunbird, Anthreptes aurantium LCLittle Green Sunbird, Anthreptes seimundi (sometimes included in Nectarinia) LCGreen Sunbird, Anthreptes rectirostris LCBanded Sunbird, Anthreptes rubritorques VU
    Genus Hedydipna (sometimes included in Anthreptes)
    • Collared Sunbird, Hedydipna collaris LCPygmy Sunbird, Hedydipna platura LCNile Valley Sunbird, Hedydipna metallica LCAmani Sunbird, Hedydipna pallidigaster EN
    Genus Hypogramma
    • Purple-naped Sunbird, Hypogramma hypogrammicum LC
    Genus Anabathmis (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Reichenbach’s Sunbird, Anabathmis reichenbachii LCPrincipe Sunbird, Anabathmis hartlaubii LCNewton’s Sunbird, Anabathmis newtonii LC
    Genus Dreptes (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Sao Tome Sunbird, Dreptes thomensis VU
    Genus Anthobaphes (sometimes included in Nectarinia) Genus Cyanomitra (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Green-headed Sunbird, Cyanomitra verticalis LCBlue-throated Brown Sunbird, Cyanomitra cyanolaema LCBlue-headed Sunbird, Cyanomitra alinae LCCameroon Sunbird, Cyanomitra oritis LCBannerman’s Sunbird, Cyanomitra bannermani LCEastern Olive Sunbird, Cyanomitra olivacea LCWestern Olive Sunbird, Cyanomitra obscura LCMouse-colored Sunbird, Cyanomitra veroxii LC
    Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Chalcomitra senegalensis, Mutamaiyu Mugie Lodge, Laikipia, Kenya, Africa
  • Genus Chalcomitra (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Buff-throated Sunbird, Chalcomitra adelberti LCCarmelite Sunbird, Chalcomitra fuliginosa LCGreen-throated Sunbird, Chalcomitra rubescens LCAmethyst Sunbird, Chalcomitra amethystina LCScarlet-chested Sunbird, Chalcomitra senegalensis LCHunter’s Sunbird, Chalcomitra hunteri LCSocotra Sunbird, Chalcomitra balfouri LC
    Genus Leptocoma (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Purple-rumped Sunbird, Leptocoma zeylonica LCCrimson-backed Sunbird, Leptocoma minima LCCopper-throated Sunbird, Leptocoma calcostetha LCPurple-throated Sunbird, Leptocoma sperata LCBlack Sunbird, Leptocoma sericea (formerly Nectarinia aspasia) LC
    Genus Nectarinia
    • Bocage’s Sunbird, Nectarinia bocagii LCPurple-breasted Sunbird, Nectarinia purpureiventris LCTacazze Sunbird, Nectarinia tacazze LCBronze Sunbird, Nectarinia kilimensis LCGolden-winged Sunbird, Nectarinia reichenowi LCRed-tufted Sunbird, Nectarinia johnstoni LCMalachite Sunbird, Nectarinia famosa LC
    Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris reichenowi, Sarara Camp, Namunyak Wildlife Conservation, Kenya, Africa
  • Genus Cinnyris (sometimes included in Nectarinia)
    • Olive-bellied Sunbird, Cinnyris chloropygius LCTiny Sunbird, Cinnyris minullus LCMiombo Sunbird, Cinnyris manoensis LCSouthern Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris chalybeus LCNorthern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cinnyris reichenowiNeergaard’s Sunbird, Cinnyris neergaardi NTStuhlmann’s Sunbird, Cinnyris stuhlmanni (sometimes considered subspecies of C. afer) NTPrigogine’s Sunbird, Cinnyris prigoginei (sometimes considered subspecies of C. afer) NTMontane Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris ludovicensis LCNorthern Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris preussi LCGreater Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris afer LCRegal Sunbird, Cinnyris regius LCRockefeller’s Sunbird, Cinnyris rockefelleri VUEastern Double-collared Sunbird, Cinnyris mediocris LCMoreau’s Sunbird, Cinnyris moreaui NTBeautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus LCLoveridge’s Sunbird, Cinnyris loveridgei LCMariqua Sunbird, Cinnyris mariquensis LCShelley’s Sunbird, Cinnyris shelleyi LCCongo Sunbird, Cinnyris congensis LCRed-chested Sunbird, Cinnyris erythrocerca LCBlack-bellied Sunbird, Cinnyris nectarinioides LCPurple-banded Sunbird, Cinnyris bifasciatus LCTsavo Sunbird, Cinnyris tsavoensis (sometimes considered subspecies of C. bifasciatus) LCViolet-breasted Sunbird, Cinnyris chalcomelas LCPemba Sunbird, Cinnyris pembae LCOrange-tufted Sunbird, Cinnyris bouvieri LCPalestine Sunbird, Cinnyris oseus LCShining Sunbird, Cinnyris habessinicus LCSplendid Sunbird, Cinnyris coccinigaster LCJohanna’s Sunbird, Cinnyris johannae LCSuperb Sunbird, Cinnyris superbus LCRufous-winged Sunbird, Cinnyris rufipennis VUOustalet’s Sunbird, Cinnyris oustaleti LCWhite-breasted Sunbird, Cinnyris talatala LCVariable Sunbird, Cinnyris venustus LCDusky Sunbird, Cinnyris fuscus LCUrsula’s Sunbird, Cinnyris ursulae NTBates’ Sunbird, Cinnyris batesi LCCopper Sunbird, Cinnyris cupreus LCPurple Sunbird, Cinnyris asiaticus LCOlive-backed Sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis LCApricot-breasted Sunbird, Cinnyris buettikoferi LCFlame-breasted Sunbird, Cinnyris solaris LCSouimanga Sunbird, Cinnyris sovimanga LCSeychelles Sunbird, Cinnyris dussumieri LCMadagascar Sunbird, Cinnyris notatus LCHumblot’s Sunbird, Cinnyris humbloti LCAnjouan Sunbird, Cinnyris comorensis LCMayotte Sunbird, Cinnyris coquerellii LCLong-billed Sunbird, Cinnyris lotenius LC
    Little Spiderhunter
  • Genus Aethopyga
    • Gray-hooded Sunbird, Aethopyga primigenia NTMount Apo Sunbird, Aethopyga boltoni NTLina’s Sunbird, Aethopyga linaraborae NTFlaming Sunbird, Aethopyga flagrans LCMetallic-winged Sunbird, Aethopyga pulcherrima LCElegant Sunbird, Aethopyga duyvenbodei ENLovely Sunbird, Aethopyga shelleyi LCHandsome Sunbird, Aethopyga belli LCGould’s Sunbird, Aethopyga gouldiae LCWhite-flanked Sunbird, Aethopyga eximia LCGreen-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga nipalensis LCFork-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga christinae LCBlack-throated Sunbird, Aethopyga saturata LCWestern Crimson Sunbird, Aethopyga vigorsii (sometimes considered subspecies of A. siparaja) LCCrimson Sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja LCScarlet Sunbird, Aethopyga mystacalis LCTemminck’s Sunbird, Aethopyga temminckii (sometimes considered subspecies of A. mystacalis) LCFire-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga ignicauda LC
    Genus Arachnothera – spiderhunters
    • Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Arachnothera crassirostris LC
    • Spectacled Spiderhunter, Arachnothera flavigaster LC
    • Long-billed Spiderhunter, Arachnothera robusta LC
    • Little Spiderhunter, Arachnothera longirostra LC
    • Yellow-eared Spiderhunter, Arachnothera chrysogenys LC
    • Naked-faced Spiderhunter, Arachnothera clarae LC
    • Gray-breasted Spiderhunter, Arachnothera modesta (sometimes considered subspecies of A. affinis) LC
    • Streaky-breasted Spiderhunter, Arachnothera affinis LC
    • Bornean Spiderhunter, Arachnothera everetti LC
    • Streaked Spiderhunter, Arachnothera magna LC
    • Whitehead’s Spiderhunter, Arachnothera juliae LC

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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