A sunbird takes a bath

Sunbirds (Nectarinia jugularis) are our prettiest small birds and we are always delighted to see them in our garden. They don’t seem to live here (I blame our cat for that!) but a couple living nearby visit fairly often. I have seen them foraging for food and collecting nesting material, and this morning the male came for a bath when I turned on the sprinkler in his favourite part of the garden.

small bird with yellow belly, blue bid and olive back
Olive-backed Sunbird
same bird
A chance to dry off and look around

He flew up to a higher branch after a while, to stretch and dry off, but soon returned. A Brown Honeyeater (Lichmera indistincta) thought a bath was a good idea, too, and joined the sunbird for a while.

grey and olive bird on twig
Brown Honeyeater
wet grey-green bird
Having a good shake

But the Sunbird stayed longer, still enjoying himself under the sprinkler after the Honeyeater left.


Small bird perched on seed-pod.
Female Sunbird perched on an unopened seed-pod of the Desert Rose

Sunbirds are pretty little birds very like Australian honeyeaters or American hummingbirds in size and form, although the resemblance is due to similar lifestyles and convergent evolution, not to close family relationships. They feed on nectar, supplemented with insects and spiders. Their nests are little hanging baskets, and the one in my pictures was engaged in collecting construction material.

Sunbird grabbing fluffy seeds from pod
Collecting fluffy seeds from an open pod.

The one I photographed is a female, though you would hardly know from the first photo: the males are distinguished by a gorgeous iridescent bib (follow the link below, to Ian’s site, to see one).

Wikipedia tells us there are 132 species of sunbirds ranging from Africa through southern Asia and just into Australia. The only Australian species is the one pictured here, Nectarinia jugularis, and it is restricted to coastal Queensland. It is usually known in Australia as the Yellow-Bellied Sunbird, although Ian Montgomery notes on Birdway that ‘Olive-backed’ is used by both Birdlife International and Christidis & Boles to avoid confusion with the Variable Sunbird (N. venusta) which is also called the ‘Yellow-bellied’.