All Birds Wiki
File:Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer).jpg
Male Cape Sugarbird.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Clade: Basal Passeroidea
Family: Promeropidae
Vigors, 1825
Genus: Promerops
Brisson, 1760

The sugarbirds are a small family, Promeropidae, of passerine birds which are restricted to southern Africa. The two species of sugarbird make up one of only two bird families restricted entirely to southern Africa, the other being the rock-jumpers Chaetopidae. In general appearance as well as habits they resemble large long-tailed sunbirds, but are possibly more closely related to the Australian honeyeaters. They have brownish plumage, the long downcurved bill typical of passerine nectar feeders, and long tail feathers.


The relationships of the sugarbirds have been the source of considerable debate. They were first treated as a far-flung member of the honeyeater family, which is otherwise restricted to the Australasian region. Looking at the egg-wite proteins in the 1970's Sibley and Ahlquist mistakenly placed them with the starlings (the samples used were actually those of sunbirds). They have also been linked to the thrushes (Turdidae) and the sunbirds. Molecular studies find support for few close relatives, and they are treated as a family at present,[1] although it has been suggested that they form a clade with two enigmatic species in the genus Modulatrix. These two species, from the mountains of East Africa, are usually placed in the large taxon that includes the Old World babblers.[2] Check and Mann (2001), placed the sugarbirds as a subfamily of Nectariniidae.[3]

Distribution and habitat[]

The Gurney's Sugarbird is found from Zimbabwe southwards, except the extreme south of South Africa, where it is replaced by the Cape Sugarbird in the Cape provinces of South Africa. It has at times been considered conspecific with Gurney's. The distribution of the Gurney's Sugarbird is disjunct, and currently there are two accepted subspecies, one in the north and one further south.

Sugarbirds are dependent on Protea and are found in protea scrub. The Cape Sugarbird is found in Fynbos and has also moved into gardens and nurseries.


The two sugarbird species are medium sized passerines that weight between 26 to 46 g (0.92–1.62 oz) and are 23 to 44 cm (9.1–17.3 in) in length. Between to 15 to 38 cm (5.9–15.0 in) of that length is in their massive elongated tails, with the tails of the Cape Sugarbird being overall longer than those of the Gurney's Sugarbird. In both species the tail of the male is longer than the female, although the difference is more pronounced in the Cape Sugarbird. In overall body size the males are slightly larger and heavier than the females. Both species have long and slender bills that are slightly curved, and again the females have a slightly shorter bill, leading to differences in feeding niches. The skull and tongue morphology of the sugarbirds is very similar to that of the honeyeaters, the result of convergent evolution. The tongue is long and protrusible, and is tubular and frilled at the end.[1]


File:Gurney's Sugarbird (Promerops gurneyi).jpg

Gurney's Sugarbird

Nectar from the inflorescences of the Protea provide most of the energy these species require, and they are considered significant pollinators of the genus. The birds' diet is supplemented by insects attracted to the inflorescences.[4] Studies of the diets of sugarbirds found that bees in the family Apidae and flies formed a large part of the diet and that the insects were obtained by hawking.

The breeding behaviour and nesting habits of the two species of sugarbird are very similar.[1] Sugarbirds are monogamous, and male sugarbirds defend territories during the breeding season.[5] Females lay two eggs in a nest in a fork of a tree.



  1. ^ a b c de Swardt, Dawid (2008), "Family Promerops (Sugarbirds)", in Josep, del Hoyo; Andrew, Elliott; David, Christie, Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13, Penduline-tits to Shrikes, Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, pp. 486–497, ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3 
  2. ^ Beresford, P.; Barker, F.K.; Ryan, P.G. & Crowe, T.M. (2005): African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): molecular systematics of several evolutionary 'enigmas'. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 272(1565): 849–858. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2997 PMID 15888418 PDF fulltext Electronic appendix
  3. ^ Cheke, Robert A.; Mann, Clive F.; Allen, Richard (illu.) (2001). Sunbirds: A Guide to the Sunbirds, Spiderhunters, Sugarbirds and Flowerpeckers of the World. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300089406. 
  4. ^ "Tjørve, K; Geertsema G & L Underhill (2005) "Do sugarbirds feed on arthropods inside or outside Protea inflorescences?" Emu 105 (4): 293-297 doi:10.1071/MU04042
  5. ^ Calf, K; Downs, C & M. Cherry (2003) "Territoriality and breeding success in the Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer)" Emu 103 (1): 29 - 35 doi:10.1071/MU01071

External links[]

Family Promeropidae vte
P. gurneyi Gurney's Sugarbird
P. cafer Cape Sugarbird