Sunbirds and spiderhunters
Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) male
Crimson Sunbird and Spectacled Spiderhunter
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Clade: Inopinaves
Order: Passeriformes
Suborder: Passeri
Clade: Basal Passeroidea
Family: Nectariniidae
Vigors, 1825

This article contains made-up species!
This article contains made-up species not found on Earth. They will be highlighted in pink.

The sunbirds and spiderhunters are a family, Nectariniidae, of very small passerine birds. There are 132 species in 15 genera. The family is distributed throughout Africa, southern Asia and just reaches northern Australia. Most sunbirds feed largely on nectar, but also take insects and spiders, especially when feeding young. Flower tubes that bar access to nectar because of their shape, are simply punctured at the base near the nectaries. Fruit is also part of the diet of some species. Their 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 brought about by a similar nectar-feeding lifestyle.[1] Some sunbird species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed.


Purple sunbird

Purple Sunbird, Male, (Nagpur, India)

The family ranges in size from the 5-gram Black-bellied Sunbird to the Spectacled Spiderhunter, at about 45 grams. Like the hummingbirds, sunbirds are strongly sexually dimorphic, with the males usually brilliantly plumaged in iridescent colours.[2] In addition to this the tails of many species are longer in the males, and overall the males are larger. Sunbirds have long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to their nectar feeding.[3]

The spiderhunters, of the genus Arachnothera, are distinct in appearance from the other members of the family. They are typically larger than the other sunbirds, with drab brown plumage that is the same for both sexes and long down-curved beaks.

In metabolic behaviour similar to that of Andes hummingbirds,[4] species of sunbirds that live at high altitudes or latitudes will enter torpor while roosting at night, lowering their body temperature and entering a state of low activity and responsiveness.[2][5]

Distribution and habitat

Sunbird female

Purple Sunbird, female, (Nagpur, India)

Sunbirds are a tropical Old World family, with representatives in Africa, Asia and Australasia. In Africa they are found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar but are also distributed in Egypt. In Asia the group occurs along the coasts of the Red Sea as far north as Israel, with a gap in their distribution till Iran, from where the group occurs continuously as far as southern China and Indonesia. In Australasia the family occurs in New Guinea, north eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands. They are generally not found on oceanic islands, with the exception of the Seychelles. The greatest variety of species is found in Africa, where the group probably arose. Most species are sedentary or short-distance seasonal migrants. Sunbirds occur over the entire family's range, whereas the spiderhunters are restricted to Asia.[2]

The sunbirds and spiderhunters occupy a wide range of habitats, with a majority of species being found in primary rainforest, but other habitats used by the family including disturbed secondary forest, open woodland, open scrub and savannah, coastal scrub and alpine forest. Some species have readily adapted to human modified landscapes such as plantations, gardens and agricultural land. Many species are able to occupy a wide range of habitats from sea level to 4900 m.[2]


Sunbird are active diurnal birds that generally occur in pairs or occasionally in small family groups. A few species occasionally gather in larger groups, and sunbird will join with other birds to mob potential predators, although sunbirds will also aggressively target other species, even if they are not predators, when defending their territories.


Nectarinia jugularis

Juvenile Olive-backed Sunbird in the nest

The sunbirds that breed outside of the equatorial regions are mostly seasonal breeders, with the majority of these species breeding in the wet season. This timing reflects the increased availability of insect prey for the growing young. Where species, like the Buff-throated Sunbird, breed in the dry season, it is thought to be associated with the flowering of favoured food plants. Species of sunbird in the equatorial areas breed throughout the year. They are generally monogamous and often territorial, although a few species of sunbirds have lekking behaviour.

The nests of sunbirds are generally purse-shaped, enclosed, suspended from thin branches with generous use of spiderweb. The nests of the spiderhunters are different, both from the sunbirds and in some cases from each other. Some, like the Little Spiderhunter, are small woven cups attached to the underside of large leaves; that of the Yellow-eared Spiderhunter is similarly attached but is a long tube. The nests of spiderhunters are inconspicuous, in contrast to those of the other sunbirds which are more visible. In most species the female alone constructs the nest. Up to four eggs are laid. The female builds the nest and incubates the eggs alone, although the male assists in rearing the nestlings.[6] In the spiderhunters both sexes help to incubate the eggs.[6] The nests of sunbirds and spiderhunters are often targeted by brood parasites such as cuckoos and honeyguides.

Relationship with humans

Overall the family has fared better than many others, with only seven species considered to be threatened with extinction. Most species are fairly resistant to changes in habitat, and while attractive the family is not sought after by the cagebird trade, as they have what is considered an unpleasant song and are tricky to keep alive. Sunbirds are considered attractive birds and readily enter gardens where flowering plants are planted to attract them. There are a few negative interactions, for example the Scarlet-chested Sunbird is considered a pest in cocoa plantations as it spreads parasitic mistletoes.


  1. Genus Kurochkinegramma - Purple-naped Sunbird
    1. Purple-naped Sunbird, Kurochkinegramma hypogrammicum
  1. Genus Arachnothera - spiderhunters (13 species)
    1. Thick-billed Spiderhunter, Arachnothera crassirostris
    2. Long-billed Spiderhunter, Arachnothera robusta
    3. Orange-tufted Spiderhunter, Arachnothera flammifera
    4. Little Spiderhunter, Arachnothera longirostra
    5. Pale Spiderhunter, Arachnothera dilutior
    6. Whitehead's Spiderhunter Arachnothera juliae
    7. Yellow-eared Spiderhunter Arachnothera chrysogenys
    8. Naked-faced Spiderhunter Arachnothera clarae
    9. Spectacled Spiderhunter Arachnothera flavigaster
    10. Streaked Spiderhunter Arachnothera magna
    11. Streaky-breasted Spiderhunter Arachnothera affinis
    12. Grey-breasted Spiderhunter Arachnothera modesta - split from A. affinis (Moyle et al. (2011)[7])
    13. Bornean Spiderhunter, Arachnothera everetti
  1. Genus Chalcoparia (sometimes included in Anthreptes)
    1. Ruby-cheeked Sunbird, Chalcoparia singalensis
  1. Genus Anthreptes (4 species)
    1. Plain Sunbird, Anthreptes simplex
    2. Brown-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes malacensis
    3. Grey-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes griseigularis
    4. Red-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes rhodolaemus
  1. Genus Leptocoma (6 species)
    1. Purple-rumped Sunbird, Leptocoma zeylonica
    2. Crimson-backed Sunbird, Leptocoma minima
    3. Purple-throated Sunbird, Leptocoma sperata
    4. Van Hasselt's Sunbird, Leptocoma brasiliana
    5. Black Sunbird, Leptocoma sericea
    6. Copper-throated Sunbird, Leptocoma calcostetha
  2. Genus Aethopyga
    1. Elegant Sunbird, Aethopyga duyvenbodei
    2. Fire-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga ignicauda
    3. Black-throated Sunbird, Aethopyga saturata
    4. Mrs. Gould's Sunbird, Aethopyga gouldiae
    5. Green-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga nipalensis
    6. Vigor's Sunbird, Aethopyga vigorsii - sometimes included in A. siparaja
    7. Crimson Sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja
    8. Magnificent Sunbird, Aethopyga magnifica
    9. Lovely Sunbird, Aethopyga shelleyi
    10. Temminck's Sunbird, Aethopyga temminckii - sometimes included in A. mystacalis
    11. Javan Sunbird, Aethopyga mystacalis
    12. Handsome Sunbird, Aethopyga belli
    13. White-flanked Sunbird, Aethopyga eximia
    14. Fork-tailed Sunbird, Aethopyga christinae
    15. Flaming Sunbird, Aethopyga flagrans
    16. Maroon-naped Sunbird, Aethopyga guimarasensis
    17. Bohol Sunbird, Aethopyga decorosa
    18. Luzon Sunbird, Aethopyga jefferyi
    19. Metallic-winged Sunbird, Aethopyga pulcherrima
    20. Lina's Sunbird, Aethopyga linaraborae
    21. Grey-hooded Sunbird, Aethopyga primigenia
    22. Apo Sunbird, Aethopyga boltoni
    23. Tboli Sunbird, Aethopyga tibolii
  1. Genus Anabathmis (3 species)
    1. Reichenbach's Sunbird, Anabathmis reichenbachii
    2. Principe Sunbird, Anabathmis hartlaubii
    3. Newton's Sunbird, Anabathmis newtonii
  1. Genus Anthobaphes (16 species)
    1. Orange-breasted Sunbird, Anthobaphes violacea
    2. Regal Sunbird, Anthobaphes regius
    3. Rockefeller's Sunbird, Anthobaphes rockefelleri
    4. Neergaard's Sunbird, Anthobaphes neergaardi
    5. Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes afer
    6. Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes manoensis
    7. Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes chalybeus
    8. Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes reichenowi
    9. Ruwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes stuhlmanni - sometimes included in C. afer
    10. Prigogine's Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes prigoginei - sometimes included in C. afer
    11. Ludwig's Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes ludovicensis - sometimes included in C. afer
    12. Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes mediocris
    13. Usambara Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes usambaricus
    14. Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Anthobaphes fuelleborni
    15. Moreau's Sunbird, Anthobaphes moreaui
    16. Loveridge's Sunbird, Anthobaphes loveridgei
  1. Genus Hedydipna (10 species)
    1. Pygmy Sunbird, Hedydipna platura
    2. Nile Valley Sunbird, Hedydipna metallica
    3. Amani Sunbird, Hedydipna pallidigaster
    4. Plain-backed Sunbird, Hedydipna reichenowi
    5. Anchieta's Sunbird, Hedydipna anchietae
    6. Mangrove Sunbird, Hedydipna gabonica
    7. Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Hedydipna longuemarei
    8. Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Hedydipna orientalis
    9. Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Hedydip**na neglecta
    10. Violet-tailed Sunbird, Hedydipna aurantia
  1. Genus Nectarinia (5 species)
    1. Olive Sunbird, Nectarinia olivacea
    2. Grey Sunbird, Nectarinia veroxii
    3. Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia famosa
    4. Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, Nectarinia johnstoni
    5. White's Sunbird, Nectarinia whitei[made-up sp.]
  1. Genus Cyanomitra (7 species)
    1. Golden-winged Sunbird, Nectarinia reichenowi
    2. Rufous-winged Sunbird, Cinnyris rufipennis
    3. Green-headed Sunbird, Cyanomitra verticalis
    4. Bannerman's Sunbird, Cyanomitra bannermani
    5. Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Cyanomitra cyanolaema
    6. Blue-headed Sunbird, Cyanomitra alinae
    7. Cameroon Sunbird, Cyanomitra oritis
  1. Genus Chalcomitra (25 species)
    1. Olive-bellied Sunbird, Chalcomitra chloropygius
    2. Tiny Sunbird, Chalcomitra minullus
    3. Malagasy Green Sunbird, Chalcomitra notata
    4. Violet-breasted Sunbird, Cinnyris chalcomelas
    5. Pemba Sunbird, Cinnyris pembae
    6. Scarlet-chested SunbirdChalcomitra senegalensis
    7. Hunter's SunbirdChalcomitra hunteri
    8. Buff-throated Sunbird, Chalcomitra adelberti
    9. Carmelite Sunbird, Chalcomitra fuliginosa
    10. Green-throated Sunbird, Chalcomitra rubescens
    11. Amethyst Sunbird, Chalcomitra amethystina
    12. Marico SunbirdChalcomitra mariquensis
    13. Purple-banded SunbirdChalcomitra bifasciatus
    14. Tsavo Sunbird, Chalcomitra tsavoensis - sometimes included in C. bifasciatus
    15. Shelley's Sunbird, Chalcomitra shelleyi
    16. Hofmann's Sunbird, Chalcomitra hofmanni
    17. Congo SunbirdChalcomitra congensis
    18. Red-chested SunbirdChalcomitra erythrocerca
    19. Black-bellied SunbirdChalcomitra nectarinioides
    20. Copper SunbirdChalcomitra cupreus
    21. Beautiful SunbirdChalcomitra pulchellus
    22. Bocage's SunbirdChalcomitra bocagii
    23. Purple-breasted SunbirdChalcomitra purpureiventris
    24. Tacazze SunbirdChalcomitra tacazze
    25. Bronze SunbirdChalcomitra kilimensis
  1. Genus Deleornis (6 species)
    1. Fraser's Sunbird, Deleornis fraseri
    2. Grey-headed Sunbird, Deleornis axillaris - sometimes included in D. fraseri
    3. Little Green SunbirdDeleornis seimundi
    4. Bates's SunbirdDeleornis batesi
    5. Grey-chinned SunbirdDeleornis rectirostris
    6. Banded Green SunbirdDeleornis rubritorques
  1. Genus Anthodiaeta
    1. Collared Sunbird, Anthodiaeta collaris
  1. Genus Cyrtostomus
    1. Olive-backed Sunbird, Cyrtostomus jugularis
    2. Apricot-breasted Sunbird, Cyrtostomus buettikoferi
    3. Flame-breasted Sunbird, Cyrtostomus solaris
  1. Genus Cinnyris (18 species)
    1. Giant Sunbird, Dreptes thomensis
    2. Socotra Sunbird, Chalcomitra balfouri
    3. Orange-tufted SunbirdCinnyris bouvieri
    4. Palestine SunbirdCinnyris oseus
    5. Shining SunbirdCinnyris habessinicus
    6. Splendid SunbirdCinnyris coccinigaster
    7. Johanna's SunbirdCinnyris johannae
    8. Superb SunbirdCinnyris superbus
    9. Oustalet's SunbirdCinnyris oustaleti
    10. White-breasted SunbirdCinnyris talatala
    11. Variable SunbirdCinnyris venustus
    12. Dusky Sunbird, Cinnyris fuscus
    13. Ursula's Sunbird, Cinnyris ursulae
    14. Seychelles SunbirdCinnyris dussumieri
    15. Humblot's SunbirdCinnyris humbloti
    16. Mayotte SunbirdCinnyris coquerellii
    17. Anjouan SunbirdCinnyris comorensis
    18. Souimanga SunbirdCinnyris sovimanga
  1. Genus Arachnechthra (2 species)
    1. Purple Sunbird, Arachnechthra asiaticus
    2. Long-billed Sunbird, Arachnechthra lotenius



  1. ^ Prinzinger, R.; Schafer T. & Schuchmann K. L. (1992). "Energy metabolism, respiratory quotient and breathing parameters in two convergent small bird species : the fork-tailed sunbird Aethopyga christinae (Nectariniidae) and the chilean hummingbird Sephanoides sephanoides (Trochilidae)". Journal of thermal biology. 17 (2): 71–79. doi:10.1016/0306-4565(92)90001-V.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d Cheke, Robert; Mann, Clive (2008). "Family Nectariniidae (Sunbirds)". 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. 196–243. ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3. 
  3. ^ Cade, Tom; Lewis Greenwald (1966). "Drinking Behavior of Mousebirds in the Namib Desert, Southern Africa" (PDF). Auk. 83 (1).  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  4. ^
  5. ^ Downs, Colleen; Mark Brown (2002). "Nocturnal Heterothermy And Torpor In The Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa)". Auk. 119 (1): 251–260. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0251:NHATIT]2.0.CO;2.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  6. ^ a b Lindsey, Terence (1991). Forshaw, Joseph, ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. p. 207. ISBN 1-85391-186-0. 
  7. ^ Moyle, R.G., S.S. Taylor, C.H. Oliveros, H.C. Lim, C.L. Haines, M.A. Rahman, and F.H. Sheldon (2011), Diversification of an endemic Southeast Asian genus: Phylogenetic relationships of the Spiderhunters (Aves: Nectariniidae), Auk 128, 777-788.

External links

Sterna diversity This article is part of Project Bird Families, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on each bird family, including made-up families.
Hemipus picatus This article is part of Project Bird Taxonomy, a All Birds project that aims to write comprehensive articles on every order, family and other taxonomic rank related to birds.
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