Mass leaf bathing of sunbirds

posted in: Feathers-maintenance, Sunbirds | 2

On the evening of 27th December 2007, as I was watering my garden, I inadvertently sprayed water on the leaves of my banana plants (Musa). Suddenly, about a dozen noisy Brown-throated Sunbirds (Anthreptes malacensis) flew into the garden (below: male left, female right).


They landed on the noni tree (Morinda citrifolia) by the driveway as well as on the wet banana leaves. Those that were on the banana leaves took advantage of the droplets to have their bath. They rolled on the leaf to wet their feathers, ruffling them in the process and then preening them.


Soon the leaves dried up and I re-sprayed the plants, together with the taller noni tree. This attracted more birds to take advantage of the droplets. A few moved to the noni leaves. The banana leaves are large and a single leaf can take the weight of the birds (above). On the other hand, noni leaves are oval structures and are unable to support a single bird (below).


When a bird landed on a noni leaf, at the point where it is attached to the branch, it managed to stay on it, as long as the feet are firmly on the leaf. The moment it rolled around to soak up the droplets, the leaf cannot support the bird’s weight. What happened next was that the bird literally rolled off the leaf and had to fly to another to continue its bath.

During this commotion, a pair of Oriental White-eyes (Zosterops palpebrosus) was seen joining in the fun, although they stayed in the background, among the climbers along the fence behind. There was also a pair of Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier), peering from behind, but not joining in.

I had to wet the leaves a few more times to allow the birds to enjoy their bath. The entire activity lasted more than 30 minutes, although towards the end, there were only about two pairs, then only a pair before this last pair also flew off.

This is the first time I witnessed mass bathing. I tried wetting the plants a few days after but could not recreate the exciting spectacle.

YC Wee
February 2008

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