Olive-backed Sunbird robbing hibiscus nectar

on 17th January 2009

The origin of the hibiscus is not known but Keng (1990) believes that it probably originates from China. The pollinating agent is reported to be the hummingbird. In the tropics the hummingbird is represented by the sunbird. But sunbirds are not adapted for hibiscus pollination.

BK Lim photographed an Olive-Backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) as it was in the process of robbing a hibiscus flower (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) of its nectar in an unconventional way.

To get at the nectar, the sunbird probes the base of the flower rather than pokes its head into the corolla “tube” and in the process does not help in the pollination process.

An earlier post shows a Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) similarly robbing nectar from another hibiscus flower.

Image by BK Lim.

Keng, H. (1990). The concise flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and dicotyledons Singapore University Press. 222 pp.

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

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

9 responses

  1. This morning I observed a sunbird collecting nectar from the base of a hibiscus flower. After the bird left, I plucked and carefully examined the flower to see whether there were punctured holes on the flower. To my surprise, I found none. Then I tried to find out how hard to puncture a hole at the base of the petal by using the opened end of a paper clip. I used quite a strength to succeed it. It might be easier for the sunbird because its bill is needle sharp. I hope to find a hibiscus flower with the punctured holes done by a sunbird.

    1. It can be that the sunbird slipped its bill between the base of the petals to get at the nectar. Should you manage to locate a puncture mark, please take a photograph do let us know.

  2. Just past noon, the weather was sunny outside and I was very lucky to spot five olive-backed sunbirds in the hibiscus garden. I managed to observe them as near as 2 metres away. I was convinced that they never punctured the base of the petals for the nectar but instead they simply inserted their bills between the sepal and the base of the petal and sucked the nectar. They took 1-2 seconds for the job done in each flower. I feel very nice!

  3. In Kerala, India, sunbirds are very common on the traditional red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis variety that is generally grown in house holds for offering the flowers to Hindu Gods during pujas (worship). But nowadays the traditional variety has been replaced with attractive looking new hybrids that do not attract sunbirds. Are the nectaries lost during hybridization? Does a similar situation exist in Singapore and Malaysia?

  4. I do not think nectaries can be lost through hybridisation, maybe through mutation – but I stand corrected. With more attractive varieties/species being available, I am sure the traditional varieties/species will be slowly replaced.

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