The Malachite Sunbird, specifically the adult males in breeding plumage, is undeniably among the most beautiful birds occurring in South Africa. Though normally seen singly or in pairs, at times they congregate in enormous numbers – hundreds and even thousands – when a favourite kind of plant is in bloom in a limited area. Malachite Sunbirds feed principally on the nectar of aloes, proteas and other plants, and as pollinators are a crucial part of a healthy ecosystem. They also include a portion of invertebrates in their diet.
Pairs are monogamous when breeding, which peaks in spring and summer, but the pair bond isn’t very strong and apart from protecting the pair’s breeding territory (against birds of all description, not only other sunbirds) the male plays little to no part in the building of the nest, incubation of the eggs or rearing of the chicks. Clutches of 1-4 eggs hatch about 2 weeks after laying, with the chicks leaving the nest less than three weeks after hatching and becoming independent before they’re a month old. Fully grown, males measure up to 25cm in length, including their long tails, and weigh only up to 25g. Adult females are about 14cm long.
The Malachite Sunbird has a very patchy distribution stretching from Ethiopia to South Africa, where it inhabits coastal and montane grassland, heathland and scrub, as well as suburban parks and gardens, from sea-level to 3,500m above. Within the borders of South Africa, Malachite Sunbirds are found in parts of all nine provinces, being generally absent from most of the Great Karoo, the Kalahari, the Bushveld and the Lowveld. The IUCN lists it as being of least concern.