Amethyst Sunbird

Chalcomitra amethystina

The Amethyst Sunbird, also known as the Black Sunbird for the male’s dark plumage, is naturally a bird of coastal forests and moist savannas and woodlands that have become quite well adapted to suburban parks and gardens, and actually extended its distribution thanks to these most suitable, if unnatural, habitats. In common with most other members of the sunbird family their diet is mostly made up of nectar from a wide variety of plants and supplemented with occasional soft-bodied insects.

Amethyst Sunbirds breed throughout the year, with a peak in nesting during spring and summer. Despite being considered monogamous, the male plays surprisingly little part in the rearing process. The female builds the nest alone, using spiderwebs to hold together an oval-shaped structure consisting of leaves, bark, twigs and the stems and blades of grass with an entrance hole on the side. The female is also solely responsible for the incubation of the clutch of 1-3 eggs over a 3 week period. The male even leaves most of the feeding of the chicks, which fledge before they’re 3 weeks old, to the female.

Being one of the larger sunbirds, weighing around 15g and measuring about 14cm in length, Amethyst Sunbirds are quite aggressively dominant over most other members of the family when they mix at prized flowering plants. They are usually seen singly or in pairs.

The Amethyst Sunbird is widely distributed through South Africa – from Cape Town all along the southern Cape coast and through the Garden Route to the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, north-eastern Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Gauteng and North West. Beyond our borders they’re found as far as the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Somalia. The IUCN considers it to be of least concern.

18 thoughts on “Amethyst Sunbird

  1. Anne

    Ah Dries! I was bemoaning the paucity of Amethyst Sunbirds in our garden whilst drawing up my bird list for June. Checking through my records, I have seen them in most months, yet they are not around a lot. Even the Greater Double-collared Sunbirds are less visible than usual. I can only think that the drought has bitten too hard, for even those beautiful Leonotis leonuris flowers you show here have been scarce – and they are hardy plants! So, this is a roundabout way of saying that I am delighted that you have featured them today 🙂

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      Your contributions to our blog are always a reason for a contented smile, Anne – thank you very much!

      In our garden the males are really shy, while the females and youngsters much less so (as you can probably tell by the overwhelming number of photos of the drabber females featured here). The males always accompany the females, but the moment they see the camera they flit out of view.

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  2. H.J. for avian101

    I imagine that birds like the Amethyst Sunbird gave way to the hummingbird after it got to the New World where did not have to eat, only drink nectar from flowers. I just speculate about it. Thanks, D. for the post, quite interesting. 🙂

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      The sunbirds and hummingbirds are wonderful examples of convergent evolution – form following function where similar adaptations to a similar niche in creation is displayed in animals often quite unrelated to one another.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I first had to go look up the curve-billed thrasher, Janet – the resemblance is quite striking, and I expected to read that it has a similar diet to the sunbird but it seems not?

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