Olive-backed Sunbird: Nesting misadventure

on 26th June 2007


Goh Si Guim tells the sad story of a pair of Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) that nested along the third floor balcony of a private house. The nest was built suspended from a money plant (Epipremnum pinnatum Aureum) growing in a pot that sits among other potted plants (left). To the untrained eyes the elongated nest looks like a mass of dead leaves stuck together with cobwebs. And that was what the residents thought. Until there was frenzy of feeding activities when the chicks hatched…

“Apparently nobody paid any attention to this mass of dried plant matters, never even realizing that it was a sunbird’s nest. It was only when the eggs hatched and the feeding frenzy started that the residents began to take notice of the nest. And of course when the plants were watered, there were angry confrontations with the parent birds.

“Apparently the original nesting began sometime in mid-April 2007. And the chicks fledged successfully.

“In the third week of May there was a frenzy of nest building when the birds got down to raising their second brood along the same balcony. They were actually refurbishing the old nest, adding new materials… By early June the chirping of the chicks were heard.


“On Monday morning, 11th June, disaster struck:

“In the words of the homeowner: ‘As I was having my breakfast, my thoughts were interrupted by incessant squeaks and tweets. Looking out into my balcony, I noticed the papa sunbird nudging his chick. The chick seemed to have fallen onto the floor and the papa sunbird was trying to move it back into the nest, a near impossible task as the chick was as big as its papa (right bottom).

“’As I went out to investigate, I noticed another chick a few feet away. The nest had given way! (right top). I then saw the mama bird nearby. Both the mama and papa birds were bringing food to their chicks so that they would not get hungry.’

“When the homeowner’s father arrived 15 minutes later, one of the birds had disappeared! ‘Father came and immediately began his rescue mission. Unfortunately, one chick had disappeared.’ It remained unknown whether it fell off the balcony or was snatched by a predatory bird.

“In their haste to start the next family, the maintenance or re-sprucing of the original nest may not have been up to standard. The wear and tear may have not allowed it to sustain the weight of the growing chicks, or it got too crowded and the structure gave way.


“The remnant of the nest was cut and placed in a plastic dessert bowl. The remaining chick was placed with this makeshift nest, which is then placed partially hidden among the potted plants (above left). It was hoped that the chick would feel secure and familiar near the nest and that the parents would recognise the chick and continue to feed it.

“The homeowner continued: ‘By night fall, the chick had crawled up the nest to sleep (above right). We shall have to wait to see if the papa and mama bird will come back to the chick.’


“However, the next morning, it was noticed that the chick was silent and was not responding to the calls of the parents (left). It may have been disorientated from being out of the protective comfort of the nest or instinctively chose to remain silent to avoid detection or predation by marauding crows. As the chick did not respond to the parents’ calls, they did not proceed to feed it.

“This did not augur well.

“However, as the homeowner would be at work the whole day, hopefully there would be ample time for the family to get re-acquainted with each other.

“Alas, my premonition was accurate. The chick did not survive the day. It was found lying on its side, motionless, by the homeowner on Tuesday night. The papa and mama birds were on a nearby tree to mourn their loss.”

Goh Si Guim
May 2007

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.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 Responses

  1. Found a baby Olive-back on my balcony. Can’t find the nest. must have drop from top floor of my apartment. Too weak to fly far. What should i feed it to keep it alive? Should i release it or nurse it further? Please reply soon!

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