Sunbird  - Nectariniidae


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The Sunbird is a "tiny" bird with a curved bill that visit garden that is planted with flowering scrubs daily. These scrubs are small plants and the visit by the birds cannot be missed. The question that I always get would be "What is the name of the small Hummingbird like creature that visit my plant?" That is a Sunbird, to be exact, an Olive-backed Sunbird. The only with a black throat, the male. The one in plain greenish yellow is the female. There are quite a few type of Sunbirds that are in Malaysia, all of the may look dull in the shadow but have that iridescent  shining colors in the Sunlight. That is where this bird gets the name from. More about these bird below but first let's look at its roots.

Classified within the Nectariniini family and  under the umbrella of this group of nectar hunters there are the Sunbirds & Spiderhunters. World wide record shows 123 species and in South East Asia 24.

From this number 17 of them are named as Sunbird. Again drawn out from this figure, 12 of them has being recorded as sighted in Malaysia 

Black-throated Sunbird Aethopyga saturata
Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
Copper-throated Sunbird Leptocoma calcostetha
Crimson Sunbird Aethopyga siparaja
Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
Plain Sunbird Anthreptes simplex
Purple-throated Sunbird Leptocoma sperata
Purple-naped Sunbird Hypogramma hypogrammicum
Purple Sunbird Cinnyris asiaticus
Red-throated Sunbird Anthreptes rhodolaemus
Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis
Temminck's Sunbird Aethopyga temminckii

Sunbird are birds with slender downturn curved bills. With this outlook, many non-birder mistook them as similar to that of the Hummingbirds of America. They don't belong to the same family as well. Sunbird are naturally nectar feeding birds.

One outstanding feature of the Sunbird is that most of them has feathers in iridescent colors that changes in shades under the bright sun. Another point is that female are in uniformly dull olive or brown. Almost all female look alike with minor variations.

The most common of all these birds is the Olive-backed that most people get to encounter and also see them daily in our back yard. From there, we move on to the Brown-throated Sunbird that we hear calling on the roadside and in park but would never get to see the birds at all. Lastly, a whole family of other species of Sunbirds that can only be seen in certain forest and mangrove areas. The Olive backed can be seen in forest edge and Mangrove areas as well and with the same undisturbed behavior. But the rest of the Sunbird may be there but do not behave like the Olive-backed Sunbird. They are swift in getting away from humans that strayed into their habitats.


1.Black-throated Sunbird   Aethopyga saturata wrayi

 Size & diagnostic markings:- 15 Cm. The Black-throated Sunbird with the elongated tail at 15 cm long makes the bird looks slim and long. Otherwise this is a small Sunbird. The bird looks dark grey on the upper part shared by a dark red mantle. The under part is more white than very pale yellow. Black throat to the upper breast with spatters of iridescent blue. The crown and the tail in iridescent dark purple blue.

 Distribution :-  The bird is native in north-eastern India, South-east Tibet and also South-west China. In Malaysia, a very common bird in montane vegetation.
 Habitats & preferences:- In Malaysia, this is a montane bird of the forest and open park.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- The bird is sub-montane area in Frasers Hills and Maxwell Hills, very common and of course in the peak at Gunong Ulu Kali and Gunong Brinchang
 My personal jottings :-

The bird body is of average size of the Sunbird but measured at 15 cm, this is including the streamers at the tail. But in rare circumstances, this streamer itself could be as long as15 cm. In different parts of Thailand and down to Malaysia, there are variants of this bird species and they all have slight variations in colors.

This is a bird of the cold climate, a sub-montane bird. Common to all our highland resorts. Without the aids of Sunlight, the bird may appear blackish and even pale. Move swiftly and only stopping momentarily to harvest the nectar. Very difficult to ID the female as it is plain, so I assume all dull looking Sunbird found in the area to be the female of this species. So far I have not met any difficulties in our highland area as not once I encountered another species of Sunbird.

It is the altitude that the bird prefers but more important the cool climate. This bird is very much accustomed to human presence like the Olive-backed Sunbird in the lowlands. It will appear when there are activities and making enquiries for food because of the disturbances.


Record of bird's call:-    and Videos:-   Juvenile  female

female Sunbird # 1

sub adult Sunbird  # 2

male Sunbird  # 3

Black-throated Sunbird # 4

Black-throated Sunbird  # 5

Black-throated Sunbird  # 6

juvenile Sunbird # 7

Black-throated Sunbird  # 8

Black-throated Sunbird  # 9

Black-throated Sunbird # 10

juvenile Sunbird  # 11

Black-throated Sunbird  # 12

juvenile Sunbird # 16

Black-throated Sunbird  # 17

Black-throated Sunbird  # 18

Black-throated Sunbird # 19

Black-throated Sunbird  # 20

female Sunbird  # 21

juvenile Sunbird # 22

Black-throated Sunbird  # 23

Black-throated Sunbird  # 24

Black-throated Sunbird # 25

Black-throated Sunbird  # 26

Black-throated Sunbird  # 27


2. Brown-throated Sunbird  Anthreptes malacensis


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 14 Cm. The Brown-throated though measuring small at 14 cm long, has a squarish tail and the more roundish looking body. This easily makes the birds appearing much larger. It is glossy dark green and purple on the upper part. Then a dull brown throat followed by a bright yellow under part. The iridescent part on this bird is the purple on the shoulder patch and plus small patch of maroon-chestnut on the wings.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of the Greater Sundas and countries around its vicinity, The Philippines & Sulawesi.  In Malaysia, Its call is heard in urban and rural gardens. Birds seen at flowering plants only, otherwise rather difficult to detect.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest edge bird and also fairly common in the mangrove forest.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- The bird prefers tall trees on the road sides and in the park, it will be moving among braches in the middle to the upper storey. Hardly comes down to the scrubs. In my house, the bird is a regular on the flowering scrubs on ground level.
 My personal jottings :-

The presence of this bird in the area is alerted by its monotonous single tone incessant call. Though the female appears plain and similar in looks with other female Sunbirds but for this female, watch for the broken pale yellow eye ring.

The bird's best distinctive marking is that dull brown throat and side and not influenced by lightings. Then the lower part, also non reflective, of strong yellow. That makes ID much quicker. The bird is resident to the greater Sundas and surrounding Islands, is also a bird seen throughout the year in Malaysia.

This is a lowland bird of the forest edge, very common in areas near the mangrove forest. Also away from the coast, seen often in ricefields and in urban parks. Easy to tell apart from the Olive-backed Sunbird that is very common in our gardens, the dark shoulder patch not seen in the olive-winged. The repetitive closely linked single note call and which is very loud. This is the alert that signals the bird presence in the area.

The best place to show our birding skills is, in trying to distinguish the 2 female birds that are visiting our backyard.


Record of bird's call:-    and Videos:-    female    Male

Brown-throated Sunbird  #  1

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 2

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 3

Brown-throated Sunbird  #  4

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 5

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 6

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 7

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 8

female Sunbird  # 9

female Sunbird  # 10

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 11

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 12

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 16

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 17

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 18

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 19

female  Sunbird  # 20

female  Sunbird  # 21

female  Sunbird  # 22

female  Sunbird  # 23

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 24

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 25

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 26

Brown-throated Sunbird  # 27


3. Copper-throated Sunbird  Leptocoma calcostetha


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 14 Cm. The Copper-throated Sunbird which is also 14 cm long has slimmer body and a tail ending in 3 prongs. The bird is completely dark, very difficult to make out its color. Then when it is near human, it moves around the shadow most of the time. The bird has black on the upper part. Then a huge patch of copper red on the throat and upper breast. Still on the under side, this change in light purple on the breast and into gray in the area of the vent. The iridescent green on the crown and shoulder patch is very prominent, when seen in bright sunlight. Look at frame 27, beneath the wing hide a small patch gold that is hardly seen.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird from Sumatra, Java and Borneo plus Palawan. In Malaysia, I am not sure could be seasonal. It is easy locate when the bird was around and guided by its calls.. Otherwise encountered on rare occasions.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is strictly a mangrove forest bird.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- All my pictures were taken in Pulau Indah. The video was taken in Bagan Sungei Buloh. Both locations are mangrove forests.
 My personal jottings :-

I would term this bird to be specialized bird as they are dedicated to living in the mangrove forest. Normally the bird would fly across swiftly and perched in open branches at the upper storey. Just too far to get any details of this dark bird. In other times with particular fruits in season, the bird may wandering and hard to locate the bird.

During the rest time, the bird would be in the shadows on the lower storey of mangrove trees in dried up areas and surrounded by scrubs. There the birds both male and female would chirping away continuously. Guided by the direction of this clear calls, it does not mean an easy chance of locating the birds in this dense maze.

I was lucky to get the bird nesting and paying many visits to the feeding the young. Was able to witness, the fledging of the chick and getting the pictures. Regrettably, though in different perches, the pictures came out monotonous.


Record of bird's call:-    and Video:-

Copper-throated Sunbird  #  1

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 2

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 3

Copper-throated Sunbird  #  4

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 5

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 6

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 7

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 8

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 9

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 10

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 11

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 12

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 16

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 17

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 18

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 19

Copper-throated  Sunbird  # 20

Copper-throated  Sunbird  # 21

Copper-throated Sunbird  # 22

Fledgling  # 23

Fledgling  # 24

Fledgling  # 25

Fledgling  # 26

That secret golden patch  # 27


4. Olive-backed Sunbird  Cinnyris jugularis ornata


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 11 Cm. The Olive-backed is tiny, more roundish with a shorter tail measuring only 11 cm long. The upper part is olive green which earns the bird its name. More significant would be the under part in bright yellow. The iridescent portion on this bird would be its fore head, throat and upper breast in blue-black. all these seen but that iridescent effect seen only in bright day light. On the male bird, there is actually an irregular thin rufous border to the black bib. Then, typical of all female Sunbird, this one also has plain colors.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird from the Andaman, South and south-west China, Greater Sundas, then the Philippines down to northern Australia. In Malaysia, no problem to see the bird. nearly all urban garden would have them visiting.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a bird of the open park, garden and mangrove forest.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- You need not look for the bird. Just find flowering trees, waiting there in the park especially in the morning, if you are patient enough. Good changes the bird would be passing by.
 My personal jottings :-

The Sunbird is among one of the most common birds in our garden. The fact that it seen almost everywhere we goes show that it is prolific breeder and simple in its diet. which is simply nectar. Seen here is the bird feeding on the flowers of the Malvaviscus plants, a favorite of the bird.

So use to seeing this bird that I forgot that this is a tiny bird of 11 cm.  Again another bird from the area of the greater Sundas, this bird is breeding in our garden, mangrove forest and places it hangs our regularly. Beside the pair of male and female, there is also an eclipse.

The Eclipse would be a male bird with streak of black on its throat instead of a black patch.

Record of bird's call:-    and Videos:-  eclipse

Olive-backed Sunbird # 1

female Sunbird  # 2

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 3

Olive-backed Sunbird # 4

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 5

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 6

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 7

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 8

female Sunbird  # 9

Olive-backed Sunbird # 10

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 11

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 12

female Sunbird # 16

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 17

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 18

 Sunbird # 19

Eclipse Sunbird  # 20

Eclipse Sunbird  # 21

Olive-backed Sunbird # 22

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 23

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 24

Olive-backed Sunbird # 25

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 26

Olive-backed Sunbird  # 27


5. Plain Sunbird    Anthreptes simplex


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 13 Cm. This is a rare Sunbird. Maybe it is not at all but unexciting and did not attract a second look. This bird looks like a regular female Sunbird without any obvious iridescent patch on the body or wings. Typical of a female Sunbird. the bill is more straight too. Most important diagnostic sign would be is a tiny patch of iridescent blue-green on the forehead, but it is also hardly noticed at all.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird from Sumatra and Borneo island. In Malaysia, I have no idea where to get this bird. hardly seen.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest bird patronizing scrubs. More a forest edge birds on low trees and scrubs and even those near the coast but never a mangrove forest bird.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- Met the bird on the mountain road to the Gap and also in open country at the Air Itam Dam.
 My personal jottings :-

This unusual Sunbird has all the looks of a female. Very plain indeed. Another point is that the bill is shorter and less curved. The one and only way to ID this bird is to verify that this a Plain Sunbird and also a male in that tiny iridescent blue-green patch in front part of its forehead.

This is a bird of the forest, both lowlands and mangrove, seen in forest edge. The bird prefer middle storey and unlike most Sunbird, this one move about in a less hurried manner. Systematically checking of the area with possible food sources.

There is no known specific flowering tree or terrain that the bird prefer, meeting up with it is purely accidental.

Record of bird's call:-    and Video:-

Plain  Sunbird  # 1

Plain  Sunbird # 2

Plain  Sunbird  # 3

Plain  Sunbird  # 4

Plain  Sunbird # 8

Plain  Sunbird  # 9

Plain  Sunbird  # 10


6. Purple-naped Sunbird  Hypogramma hypogrammicum


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 15 Cm. The Purple-naped is also a good size Sunbird. At the first glance, this bird looks plain as well with an Olive-green upper part and the under part in yellow. But this yellow under part is heavily streaked like a Spiderhunter. There are quite a few tiny iridescent patches. These are bright purple nuchal band, another on the rump and lastly one on the tail. All these 3 bands are fine and well concealed.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird from South-west China, Sumatra and Borneo Islands. In Malaysia, the bird is common in places at the edge of primary forest
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a bird from heavily forest lowland and also found in areas just below the sub-montane climate. Very common bird but in contrast low population.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- This is a fairly common Sunbird in the lowland forest, when a Sunbird is detected, good chances, it would be Purple-naped. The only other Sunbirds that share this forest environment  would be Temminck's which is in bright red color. The Ruby-cheeked is much smaller and very colorful.
 My personal jottings :-

This is another very plain looking Sunbird that looks like the female. Like the Plain Sunbird, it has tiny diagnostic markings. This time the iridescent patch is in  a thin light purplish blue nuchal band, easily visible when the bird turns it neck. There are more, another tiny patch on the rump and lastly two more tiny patches on the upper tail converts. All these markings in similar tone, while small is very distinctive. Perhaps the most striking feature of this Sunbird to tell it apart from the other species is its boldly streaked under part. A fairly large bird at 15 cm.

This is a bird of South-west China, Sumatra and Borneo Island. This is a fairly common bird of the Malaysian forest edge. As the pictures shows the bird feed on seeds from a couple of species of the Marcaranga trees. To me seeing them so often makes me assume that they are resident.


Record of bird's call:-    and Videos:-    

male Sunbird # 1

male Sunbird #2

male Sunbird # 3

male Sunbird # 4

male Sunbird # 5

male Sunbird # 6

female Sunbird # 7

male Sunbird # 8

male Sunbird # 9

male Sunbird # 10

female Sunbird # 11

female Sunbird # 12

female Sunbird # 16

Purple-naped Sunbird # 17

sub-adult Sunbird # 18

Purple-naped Sunbird # 19

Purple-naped Sunbird # 20

male Sunbird # 21

female Sunbird # 22

female Sunbird # 23

male Sunbird # 24

male Sunbird # 25

male Sunbird # 26

male Sunbird # 27


7. Red-throated Sunbird  Anthreptes rhodolaemus


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 13 Cm. The Red-throated Sunbird by measurement is another  small Sunbird at 13 cm long. I always get the impression that it would be larger in measurement. Like the Brown-throated Sunbird, this species has reddish brown as its upper part and pale yellow as its under part. Now the details, it has slightly maroon face and also matching brick red throat. The wing feathers in chestnut-maroon. The iridescent part is the metallic blue patch behind the neck and in front of the shoulder.

 Distribution :-  This is a bird of Sumatra and Borneo Islands. In Malaysia, only met up with the bird in fruiting season. Watch for its favorite fruits - Marcaranga..
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest bird that is hardly encountered. It is within the deep forest areas feeding on fruits
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- The pictures that I am having are taken over a few occasions in the Perdik forest during the fruiting season.
 My personal jottings :-

The Red-throated Sunbird is not very often sighted. Very similar to the Brown throated except it is leaning more to the reddish tone. Cannot tell why the bird is less sighted. I got pictures of this bird in Perdik in several fruiting trees and different period. Confirmed that all times, the bird is a seed hunter more than seeking for nectar.

As for fruiting trees of its choice - it was seen patronizing a few species of Marcaranga, but these trees were not fruiting the whole year round. Must be interesting to know more about this birds diet and the fruiting behaviors of these forest plants.

This is a bird of South-west China, Sumatra and Borneo Island, and Robson also knowledge that bird is rare in Malaysia.


Record of bird's call:-    and Videos:- female 

Red-throated Sunbird # 1

Red-throated  Sunbird #2

Red-throated  Sunbird # 3

Red-throated Sunbird # 4

Red-throated  Sunbird #5

Red-throated  Sunbird # 6

Red-throated Sunbird # 7

Red-throated  Sunbird #8

Red-throated  Sunbird # 9

Red-throated Sunbird # 10

Red-throated  Sunbird #11

Red-throated  Sunbird # 12

Red-throated Sunbird # 16

Red-throated  Sunbird #17

Red-throated  Sunbird # 18

Red-throated Sunbird # 19

Red-throated  Sunbird #20

Red-throated  Sunbird # 21

Red-throated Sunbird # 22

Red-throated  Sunbird #23

Red-throated  Sunbird # 24

Red-throated Sunbird # 25

Red-throated  Sunbird #26

Red-throated  Sunbird # 27


8. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird    Chalcoparia singalensis


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 11 Cm. The Ruby-cheeked Sunbird is perhaps the smallest Sunbird together with the Olive-winged Sunbird within the family for the Malaysian region. The bird has a dark green upper part. On the under part, a prominent pale orange-rufous throat that extend to the upper breast and the rear half of the breast in yellow. This is one Sunbird that has the most iridescent patches. Almost most front portion of the upper part from the crown to the shoulder patch is in metallic green. The ear coverts  in copper red.

 Distribution :-  The bird is from Nepal. The area of north-east India and south-west China, Sumatra, Java and Borneo. In Malaysia, a bird found at the edges of dense forest. Very easy bird to encounter.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is another lowland forest bird that is insectivorous hunting in heavily wooded environment. Sometimes the bird may stray into garden if they are located at the forest edge.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- So far, most places I encountered the bird were in deep forest and also more often than not in places near or within the bamboo clumps. It is not very commonly seen as the bird is a loner and do not make much call when foraging. I can say thta it is not  a rare bird.
 My personal jottings :-

This is one of the 2 smallest Sunbirds at 11 cm and also among the most colorful Sunbird. The bird is mostly iridescent green from the colorful on its upperparts.  But in the absence of sunlight or most times when the bird is in the shadow, it is the pale orange-rufous throat  that is diagnostic on the bird.

This bird is hard to see as it frequent the dense foliage at the lower storey.  I noticed that the bird has a preference for Bamboo clumps. When a Sunbird is spotted moving among thick foliages, listen for the sharp calls. While it difficult to spot, once spotted it is easy to follow its movement as the bird wanders unhurriedly.

There is no specific surrounding to look for while hunting for the bird other then meeting up with it in an accidental encounter. The only clue I can give is that the bird was consistently sighted on Kemensah and Kuala Selangor Nature park.

Again another bird from the SW China, Sumatra and Borneo region, this bird is fairly common in our lowland forest and Mangrove swamp. Have yet to see it in the sub-montane areas.


Record of bird's call:-    and Video:-

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 1

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 2

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 3

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 4

female Sunbird  # 5

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 6

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 7

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 8

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 9

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 10

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 11

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 12

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 16

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 17

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 18

female Sunbird # 19

female Sunbird  # 20

female Sunbird  # 21

female Sunbird # 22

female Sunbird  # 23

female Sunbird  # 24

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird # 25

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 26

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird  # 27


9. Temminck's Sunbird   Aethopyga temminckii


 Size & diagnostic markings:- 12 Cm. The Temminck's Sunbird has a slightly longer tail and is measured at 12 cm. The bird is almost scarlet in its upper part other than its wings, which are brown. The under part is light gray. The iridescent part on this bird would be the same as the Plain Sunbird, a patch of dark green in the fore crown.

 Distribution :-  This is another bird from the island of Sumatra and Borneo. In Malaysia, this bird appear more common over Sabah. Not very clear of its habitat, primary forest and belukar. Definitively not an easy bird to encounter even in deep forest.
 Habitats & preferences:- This is a lowland forest bird visiting open areas and forest edge. It prefer scrubs country where the trees are low and sparse.
 In Malaysia, where can the bird be found:- These are pictures I have taken in Air Itam Dam Penang. The bird was seen in Perdik but in the upper storey where the vegetation were sparse.
 My personal jottings :-

A small slim Sunbird at 11 cm.  This a very colorful bird in bright red. A bird of Sumatra and Borneo Island, this lowland bird is hardly seen. It prefers open location in forest edge but moves about in very swift manner.

It is so rarely encountered that I had inadequate experience with its habits and could not comment much on this bird.


Record of bird call:-    and Video:-

Temminck's Sunbird # 1

Temminck's Sunbird  # 2

Temminck's Sunbird # 3

Temminck's Sunbird  # 4

Temminck's Sunbird  # 5


Looking for Sunbird is both a very easy undertaking and also tedious affair. Some like the Black-throated and the Olive-winged virtually are so common that it virtually "come our of your ears" so to speak. The others, there is no way to stalk them as they are not prolific breeders and the population is low. Their appearances very sporadic. Most of them are not known to follow a migratory pattern. For me too, it takes times to meet up and build up my requirement of pictures of them.