Sunbirds: Jewels of the Sun2 min read

Sunbirds are surely one of the most popular and delightful of bird families. The male birds at least can be described as such. The females can be recognised by their habits, size, and bills, but they are usually dull grey, brown, or olive-coloured and have no metallic flash.Since they frequently move around in pairs, one can usually assume that the nearby female is the same species as the more easily identifiable male. The long, slender, curved bill and flower-visiting habits are common to all sunbirds. Look for them amongst theflowers of erythrina trees, aloes, schotia and similar tubular flowers where they seek out insects as well as nectar. They are found in woodlands, riverine bush, and gardens all over the country. The shape and size of their nests are similar and usually easy to find, suspended from a branch, or under the eaves of a building, or on metal and wire structures. They are pear-shaped, have a side entrance, and are made of fine plant materials, bound with spider webs. They lay one to three eggs of varying colours between August and March.

The male Scarlet-chested Sunbird is velvety black and has a conspicuous scarlet chest and metallic green reflections on crown and chin. The females are darkly mottled. It is one of the larger sunbirds and has a noisy piping call.

The male Amethyst Sunbird (previously known as the Black Sunbird) is a lively bird with a fast flight and somewhat restless habits. It is very similar to the Scarlet-chested but lacks the scarlet chest. It has a metallic green forehead and a metallic purple throat and rump. The female can be recognised by its pale yellow underparts and a palemoustachial stripe.

The male White-bellied Sunbird is a smaller, restless little bird with a white belly, and the whole of the head, mantle, and breast a metallic green. It is quite a conspicuous songster and adapted to gardens. The female has a brownish-grey back and a ‘dirty’ white front.

The male Variable Sunbird is similar in size and has a beautiful metallic green head, throat and upper parts and a purple patch on the breast. The underparts are bright yellow. The female has a white breast and throat and a yellow belly. This is an active little bird which used to reside mainly in the eastern districts but in recent years has spread westwards and is now considered to be one of the most common sunbirds in the Harare area.

Visit and click on the Birding Zim tab for birding hotspots in Harare and Zimbabwe.

BirdLife Zimbabwe Mashonaland Branch organizes regular bird walks for its members and non-members free of charge (however there may be entry fees e.g. National Parks or a tip required depending on the location). For further information please contact Tony Alegria:, 0772-438697.