Definitions

sunbird

sunbird

[suhn-burd]
sunbird, common name for tropical, Old World birds, including more than one hundred species in the family Nectariniidae. Like the unrelated New World hummingbirds, to which sunbirds are often compared, sunbirds have long and slender, highly curved bills, tube-shaped tongues, and feed primarily on nectar and small insects. However, they perch when feeding rather than hovering as the hummingbirds do. They are typically small birds, with the largest, the great sunbird (Dreptes thomensis) reaching a maximum length of 81/2 in. (22 cm), and are native to forest and brush throughout Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific. Some common species are the variable sunbird (Cinnyris venustus), the purple sunbird (Nectarinia asiatica), and the golden-winged sunbird (N. reichenowi). The males of most species are brightly colored, with metallic, sometimes velvety, plumage. Out of breeding season, the males tend to take on the duller female plumage. Sunbirds may change their feeding grounds during the nonbreeding season but are not particularly migratory. They are not very gregarious, and males tend to be aggressive, especially during breeding season. Sunbirds build a characteristic purselike, hanging nest, into which the female deposits her two, rarely three, white or pale blue, variously spotted or striped eggs. Two unrelated Madagascan species in the genus Neodrepenis are known as false sunbirds, and are easily confused with the sunbirds, which they resemble in habits, habitat, diet, and somewhat in appearance. They are, however, slenderer and shorter-legged, with more markedly down-curved bills. The related spider hunters, of the genus Arachnothera, are members of the true sunbird family and are found in Asia. They lack the metallic coloration of their sunbird relatives, and the sexes are more alike, both being dull greens, browns, or yellows. Spider hunters (e.g., the little spider hunter, A. longirostris) feed largely on insects and spiders. Their singular cup-shaped nest is built on the bottom of a broad leaf and attached firmly by cobwebs and plant fibers, which the bird sews and knots together. Both sexes build the nest and share incubation of the two to three eggs laid per clutch. Sunbirds and their relatives are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Passeriformes, family Nectariniidae.

The sunbirds and spiderhunters are very small passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. Flight is fast and direct on their short wings.

The sunbirds have counterparts in two very distantly related groups: the hummingbirds of the Americas and the honeyeaters of Australia. The resemblances are due to convergent evolution due to the similar nectar-feeding lifestyle. Most sunbird species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed.

Characteristics

The family ranges in size from the 5-gram Black-bellied Sunbird to the Spectacled Spiderhunter, at about 30 grams.

Sunbirds are tropical species, with representatives from Africa to Australasia; the greatest variety of species is in Africa, where the group probably arose. Most species are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants. Like the hummingbirds, sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in metallic colours. Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding. They are monogamous and often territorial. Up to three eggs are laid in a purse-shaped suspended nest. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs alone, although the male assists in rearing the young after hatching.

The Spiderhunters, of the genus Arachnothera, are distinct in appearance from the other members of the family. They are typically a drab brown colour, with strong down-curved beaks. They build cup-shaped nests, and both sexes help to incubate the eggs.

Like hummingbirds, and unlike other birds, sunbirds drink by using protrusible grooved or trough-like tongues..

Systematics

FAMILY NECTARINIIDAE

Gallery

References

External links

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