Olive-backed Sunbird: mating dance

on 24th April 2007

K. C. Tsang, L. K. Wang & Y. C. Wee, 2008. The olive-backed sunbird, Cinnyris jugularis Linnaeus, 1766 and its pectoral tufts. Nature in Singapore 1:207-210.
A PDF copy of the above paper can be obtained HERE – Vol. 1 (2008) #39.


Angie Ng read an earlier account of the courtship behaviour of the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) describing the mating dance of the male bird and suggested that I get KC Tsang to give his version of a sexier mating dance of the bird. KC has kindly agreed and sent in this account:

“I was strolling along at Bishan Park on the morning of 29th March 2006 looking for birds to photograph. Suddenly five female Olive-backed Sunbirds dropped in onto a plant right in front of me. All of them were chattering with great excitement. Then out of the blues a single male also descended on to the same plant.

“Then looking up from his perch at the females, the male began to vibrate, and the wings opened out, also vibrating in great frequency. What was most amazing, and for me a first-time observation, was that the male had these orange-yellow fluffs of fine feather extending out at the very same moment, from his shoulders (left). I am not sure if these feathers can be called lesser coverts.

“Besides vibrating, he also moved from side to side and tried to get nearer to the females. Apparently the females were not impressed or were they playing very hard to get? They flew off to another tree with the male following close behind.”

Yes, this is another version of the mating dance and by far a sexier dance. According to our field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng, these are pectoral tufts, developed by the male during the breeding season. “The male opens his wings, flutter them and display the orange tufts to attract the females. I have never observed it myself so am not sure of the detail behavioural traits. I don’t know if the female chooses her mate based on how orange the tufts are, or how big or a mix of various characters. Maybe you can get photographers to document this behaviour.”

The only other sunbird reported to have pectoral tufts is the Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa) of Africa.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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