15 Fascinating Facts About Sunbirds

This is one of the most brightly colored families of birds in the world, and therefore one of the most beautiful ones. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some interesting facts about sunbirds, an extended family of fascinating birds!

Interesting sunbird facts

1. They are part of a family of passerine birds

Sunbirds is the name of a wide variety of species of passerine birds in the family Nectariniidae.

These are small and brightly colored birds with relative long and downward-curved beaks that mostly feed on nectar, hence the name of the family.

sunbird facts
The amazingly colorful bird / Pixabay

2. There are 16 different genera of sunbirds

There are a total of 146 species of sunbirds divided into 16 different genera. Here’s an overview:

  • Chalcoparia (1 species) – ruby-cheeked sunbird
  • Deleornis (2 species)
  • Anthreptes (14 species)
  • Hedydipna (4 species)
  • Anabathmis (3 species)
  • Dreptes (1 species) – giant sunbird
  • Anthobaphes (1 species) – orange-breasted sunbird
  • Cyanomitra (7 species)
  • Chalcomitra (7 species)
  • Leptocoma (6 species)
  • Nectarinia (6 species)
  • Drepanorhynchus (1 species) – golden-winged sunbird
  • Cinnyris (56 species)
  • Aethopyga (23 species)
  • Kurochkinegramma (1 species) – purple-naped sunbird
  • Arachnothera (13 species) – spiderhunters

3. One genus of this family looks distinctly different

While most of the species in these different genera have very similar characteristics, one stands out as being distinctly different. This genus is the “Arachnothera,” birds referred to as “spiderhunters.”

While most other sunbirds are very colorful (at least the males), both sexes of spiderhunters tend to have a dull brown plumage. They are also much larger than some other species of sunbirds.

Another difference is that spiderhunters build completely different nests than all the other species. Their nests are also extremely well hidden as opposed to other sunbirds that build it right in plain sight.

spectacled spiderhunter
Spectacled spiderhunter / Lip Kee Yap / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

4. They look very similar to these two popular birds

While these families are completely unrelated to each other, the appearance of birds in both the hummingbirds in America and honeyeaters in Australia is remarkably similar.

That’s because they have experienced a so-called “convergent evolution,” an extended period of time in which two or more species live a very similar lifestyle.

The similar appearance of the sunbirds, hummingbirds, and honeybirds, this is mainly due to their nectar-feeding lifestyle.

5. The males are way more colorful than the females

This family of birds, except for spiderhunters, are very sexually dimorphic, which means that males and females look completely different from each other.

While the males are much larger and extremely colorful, the females are much smaller and have a dull plumage.

One of the most fascinating sunbird facts is that the plumage of the males also has iridescent colors which means that its color changes depending on the angle you look at it.

facts about sunbirds
The marvelous color pattern of a bird / Pixabay

6. Different species in this family can vary a lot in size

Apart from being sexually dimorphic, the species among each other can also considerably differ in size.

The smallest sunbird, the “black-bellied sunbird,” only weighs 5 grams (0.17 oz), while the largest sunbird, the “spectacled spiderhunter,” weighs on average about 45 grams (1.58 oz).

Granted, the biggest difference is between species of sunbirds in the spiderhunter genus and all the other species.

7. Their bill is perfectly adapted for them to eat

Most of the diet of many sunbirds consists mostly of nectar. Their bills are adapted to suck the nectar out of the flowers

If they aren’t able to reach the nectar inside the flower, they simply puncture the flower at the base in order to get to it.

what do sunbirds eat
A male bird’s optimized bill. / Pixabay

8. Nectar isn’t the only thing sunbirds eat

This doesn’t mean, however, that their diet consists exclusively of nectar as it’s relatively varied all throughout the year.

During the breeding season, most species also feed on insects and spiders, while various types of fruit are also a common meal for most sunbirds.

9. Sunbirds can be found on these 3 continents

The species in the sunbird family live in the Old World which consists of the 3 continents Europe, Africa, and Asia.

This also means that they have an extended range as they are native to all of Africa, throughout the Middle East, all the way to South-east Asia, southern China, Indonesia, and New Guinea.

A wide variety of species can be found in equatorial regions.

sunbird fun facts
Bird sitting in a tree / Pixabay

10. These birds can be found in a wide variety of habitats

Because these birds have such an extended range, it also means that they occur in a wide variety of habitats. While most of the sunbirds can be found in rainforests, they are also common in open scrub and savannah, coastal scrub, and alpine forest.

In case their natural habitat has been disturbed due to human activity, they have been able to adapt to their new environment remarkably well.

One of the most remarkable facts about sunbirds is that they can be found from sea level up to an altitude of up to 4,900 meters (16,000 feet).

11. These active little birds defend their territories

These birds are diurnal, which means they are active during the day and inactive at night. Most of the birds appear in either pairs or small groups.

On rare occasions, it’s also possible to see them flock together in larger groups. This is mostly the case if they join hands in order to chase away intruders in their territory.

Yes, these little birds can be pretty aggressive if they see unwanted intruders roaming around!

sunbirds defend their territory
These birds actively defend their territories. / Pixabay

12. Some breed during the wet season for a particular reason

While some species in the equatorial regions breed all throughout the year, and some other species, such as for example the buff-throated sunbird, breed in the dry season, most birds in this family breed during the wet season.

The reason that most sunbirds breed during this particular of the year is that a lot more insects are available then, which is what they feed their chicks with.

13. The female does most of the work during breeding

Another one of these remarkable sunbird facts is that the males have very little to do with the breeding process. The females of most species build the nests all alone, lay up to 4 eggs, and feed the young.

The male gets involved when the young are big enough to leave the nest. This also means that these birds are for the most part monogamous.

The only exception are the spiderhunters as the males are way more involved and even help to incubate the eggs.

sunbird feeding chick
Detail of the nest and feeding. / Pixabay

14. They are very important for many plants in Africa

Sunbirds are extremely important birds as they are pollinators in various African plant ecosystems. This means that they help to distribute pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of another flower which brings about fertilization.

Some of the African plants and flowers they help to fertilize this way are proteas, aloes, Erica, Erythrina coral trees, and bird-of-paradise flowers.

15. Their awful singing talent has help them a lot

Of the 146 species of sunbirds in the world, only 7 are threatened with extinction, which is much better than various other types of similar birds. One of the most intriguing facts is that their awful singing talent is one of the reasons for this!

Because of the annoying sound of their singing, they haven’t been very popular cage birds. That’s why these amazing-looking birds haven’t been hunted for the global cage bird trade, something that has helped to keep their numbers stable.

Better yet, some people are planting flowers that attract them so they can simply enjoy their appearance in their natural habitat, pretty amazing!

sunbird interesting facts
The amazing looking bird / Pixabay