Malachite sunbird

Nectarinia famosa




Certhia famosa Linnaeus, 1766, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Two subspecies.


English: Yellow-tufted malachite sunbird, green sugarbird, long-tailed emerald sunbird; French: Souimanga malachite; German: Malachitnektarvogel; Spanish: Nectarina de Copete Amarillo.


Male 9.4-10.6 in (24-27 cm), female 5.1-5.9 in (13-15 cm); male 0.42-0.79 oz (12.0-22.5 g), female 0.32-0.62 oz (9.1-17.5 g). Mostly dark green with long bill and short tail with two elongated tail feathers. Blackish wings with small yellow patch.


N. f. cupreonitens: highlands of Eritrea, Ethiopia, southern Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, northern Malawi, and northern Mozambique; N. f. famosa: Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, western Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.


In South Africa from coast to 9,200 ft (2,800 m) high in fyn-bos, karoo vegetation, alpine moorland, and gardens, but not in forest. Elsewhere found in open areas, moorland, bamboo zone, and at forest edges.


Often seen singly but may congregate in flocks of more than 1,000 birds in patches of favorite food such as Leonotis leonurus. Aggressive, defending feeding areas against conspecifics involving physical duels in mid-air, other species of sunbirds, and wide variety of other birds. Can lower body temperature during cold nights.

Territorial. Males perform elaborate display flights, involving dive-bombing rivals from high up or twisting flights with wings stretched out. Song sometimes accompanied by pointing head upward and displaying pectoral tufts with wings half open. Courtship display by males involves drooping wings and whistling, followed by fast warbling and flapping of wings and showing of pectoral tufts, before vertical flight and landing on female to copulate.


Feeds on flowers to take nectar, especially from proteas, redhot pokers, and giant lobelias. Also takes wide variety of insects, sometimes catching them in mid-air like a flycatcher.


Up to three greenish eggs with dark mottles laid in oval nest, often with porch of grass above entrance hole. Nest may be suspended or placed in a bush. Female incubates for two weeks. After two-week nestling period, both parents feed fledglings, who return to nest for roosting. May be double- or triple-brooded, sometimes reusing same nest. Parasitized by Klaas's cuckoo and by red-chested cuckoo (Cuculus solitarius).


Not threatened. Locally common in highland areas.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS Pollinator of proteas and other flowers. ♦

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