In this series, we showcase the diversity of rare, peculiar, and fascinating native flora and fauna in Singapore. We enthusiastically invite you to explore our nature reserves and gardens, urging you to pause and observe your surroundings—whether by looking up or down—to see if you can catch a glimpse of these unique wonders.
Have you seen a sunbird flitting from flower to flower and thought… hummingbird?
These small agile birds, measuring 9 to 15cm long, are a common sign in the island’s green spaces––in gardens and nature parks. They live primarily on nectar and sometimes feed on small insects. Because of their small size and nectar-feeding behaviour, it is easy to mistake them for hummingbirds.
But you won’t find hummingbirds in this part of the world. Unlike hummingbirds, sunbirds rarely hover while feeding and usually perch to feed.
Sunbirds have long, curved bills that can reach deep into flowers, making them effective pollinators––particularly tubular flowers that bees and butterflies find difficult to access. By aiding in pollination, sunbirds help to maintain the beauty and diversity of plant life in Singapore, contributing to the balance and health of the local ecosystem. Their bills also allow them to feed on fruits when flowers are unavailable and hunt for insects and spiders to feed their young.
Sunbirds are Old World birds from the family Nectariniidae. They are native to Asia, Africa, and Australasia.
In tropical regions, sunbirds mate and breed throughout the year. The males are brightly coloured, almost iridescent, and often larger than females. They build hanging purse-like nests and usually lay two eggs at a time.
They are often seen in pairs and are monogamous, meaning they have only one partner and mate for life. You might even see them in small family groups! Sunbirds live up to 7 years in the wild and generally stay in one area from birth to death.
Here are a few sunbird species that you might encounter in Singapore:
Common name: Olive-backed Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Sunbird
Scientific name: Cinnyris jugularis
The Olive-backed Sunbird, also known as the yellow-bellied sunbird, is the most common sunbird found in Singapore. They often build their nests on the tip of branches or on fences. Males boasts a vibrant metallic-blue forehead, throat and breast, olive-green upperparts and a contrasting yellow chest; females are yellow with dull olive brown upperparts.
Common name: Brown-throated Sunbird, Plain-throated Sunbird
Scientific name: Anthreptes malacensis
The Brown-throated Sunbird is another common sunbird that can be spotted in coastal areas, mangrove habitats, parks, and gardens. Males display a distinctive brown throat, a metallic-green head and neck, purple wings, and a lemon-yellow belly; females are dull olive.
Common name: Crimson Sunbird
Scientific name: Aethopyga siparaja
The Crimson Sunbird has earned the unofficial title of Singapore’s national bird, resonating with the moniker “the little red dot” often used to describe the island on world maps. Males exhibit a bright red colour with a grey belly and greenish-black tail; females are dull olive-green with a pale yellow belly and dull-green tail.
Common name: Copper-throated Sunbird
Scientific name: Leptocoma calcostetha
The Copper-throated Sunbird is one of the larger species of sunbirds. They are found predominantly in coastal areas and mangroves. It prefers to feed on the nectar of flowers of Bruguiera trees. They are in danger of habitat loss in Singapore due to the degradation and destruction of mangroves. Males appear dark all over with an iridescent green crown and shoulder, copper-coloured throat and upper breast; females are olive with a yellow belly, a pale-grey head and throat and an incomplete white eye ring.
If you come across a sunbird in the wild, we encourage you to capture photos and document your observations. We especially recommend using the local SGBioAtlas app or the iNaturalist app, which enables you to share and validate your findings within the community.
Discover the wonders of nature, observe the intricacies of the world around you, and let curiosity be your guide. Happy exploring!