Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)

Its breeding males are conspicuous with their vivid green plumage and long tail. Eclipse plumage is duller but still displays some green iridescence and extended tail. Females sport a paler feathering and a long bill. These birds thrive in fynbos, scrublands, moorlands, wild tree plantations, and grasslands. The species’ call is characterized by “tyep” notes, accompanies by vigorous clatters.

Read further to know more about the Malachite Sunbird.

What is a Malachite Sunbird?

Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) is a smallish nectarivorous bird, occurring from Ethiopia’s highlands down to South Africa. It is a small passerine species belonging to the Nectariniidae family. As a nectarivore, this bird is responsible for pollinating many flowering plants, most especially those with extended corolla tubes found in the fynbos.

Its seven levels of classification are as follows:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Nectariniidae

Genus: Nectarinia

Species: N. famosa

Malachite Sunbird Physical Description

Malachite Sunbirds are long-tailed and long-billed birds, displaying sexual dimorphism. Males in their breeding plumage sport a vivid metallic malachite-green feathering, with the exception of the uppertail tetrices and rump, which have darker green hues.

Meanwhile, the upperwings have darkish gray flight feathers, accentuated by shiny blue edges. The middle and lesser tetrices appear striking golden-green, while the greater coverts and tertiary feathers have bright green edges.

The long tail measures about 9.8 inches or 25 centimeters, is brownish-black with dark green-ended outer webbings, sans in the exterior most rectrices. Two central tail feathers grow longer than the others. Their down-curved bill, legs, and feet, and black. Eyes are of a dark brown color.

In the eclipse or non-breeding plumage, the male’s upperparts are brownish, except for the green wings and elongated tail. Meanwhile, underparts appear yellow, streaked with green.

Females have a square-ended tail, brownish upperparts, pale yellow underparts, with some variable streaks on the breast. Juvenile or immature birds resemble the female plumage.

Where can they be spotted?

Malachite Sunbirds prefer open habitats such as moorlands, forest edges, alpine scrubs, gardens, meadows, hilly fynbos, aloe, and protea habitats. They are more common in the highlands, occurring up to 2400 meters in elevation in Ethiopia, sea level to 2800 meters in South Africa, and 3000 meters in Tanzania.

Interesting Facts You Should Know About the Malachite Sunbird

Malachite Sunbirds feed primarily on nectar from different plant species such as Lobelia, Kniphofia, and Aloe. It may occasionally hawk insects in flight, especially when feeding its offspring. Their long, slender, down-curved bills and tubular tongue with brush tips, have adapted to nectar feedings. These birds forage singly, in pairs, or in loosely structured groups of 30-40 birds.

At the start of the breeding season, malachite sunbirds perform flight displays, characterized by soaring followed by vertically diving towards the female. Wavy flight with stretched wings and raised head and tail, and the moth-resembling flapping aerial show may also occur.

The male also performs a nocturnal pectoral tuft display across the night whilst it is asleep, as these yellow pectoral tufts seemingly appear like eyespots in the darkness that ward off predators lurking at night.

The breeding season varies depending on the range. The female malachite sunbird constructs the nest, but the male will follow her as she collects nest materials. Common items used for the nest include plant fibers, grass, twigs, rootlets, leaves, and even spider webs. Cocoons and lichens are added as ornaments in the exterior to serve as camouflage. Nest interior is then lined with softer materials, such as hair, wool, and feathers. It is situated inside a bush with its entry point going inwards.

The female will lay a clutch of 1-3 eggs, which she will solely incubate for approximately 13 days. She will also be responsible for feeding the broods, though the male may offer some help. Chicks will fledge two to three weeks after hatching but may go back to the nest for about two more weeks.

Malachite Sunbirds are common across its range and currently evaluated as Least Concern (LC) under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.



Addo Elephant National Park

Cape Peninsula National Park

Knysna Lagoon

Malachite Sunbird