Brown-throated Sunbird mobs Blue-tailed Bee-eater

on 15th April 2009

Chong Yih Yeong documented a rare moment of a Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) mobbing an adult Blue-tailed Bee-eaters (Merops philippinus) perching on a branch. The sunbird attacked the bee-eater two to three times, each time pecking around the vent area.

According to John Vickerman, “…we know that sunbirds are fiercely territorial and it is well known that in defence of territory, attacks can be made on other species – regardless of size – which may be perceived to be a threat to that species’ ownership of territory. I would hazard a guess that this is what this all about – “get off my patch!”

“John is right, the sunbird is highly territorial. I have a pair coming to my balcony to take bath everyday, they will attack any other bird that goes near,” added Adrian Lim.

Most sunbirds are fiercely territorial and during the breeding period the defence is most intense. Usually, the males defend the territories, singing from vantage points and demonstrating aggressive behaviour towards intruding sunbird species. This may be in the form of shrill calls and various bodily movements or even actively chasing the intruders away.

The Copper Sunbird (Cinnyris cupreus) has been reported mobbing the African Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus), Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and a number of other species.

However, this is the first account, as far as can be established, of a Brown-throated Sunbird with such aggressive behaviour.

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

Cheke, R. A. & C. F. Mann, 2008. Family Nectariniidae (Sunbirds). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D. A. Christie (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 13. Penduline-tits to Shrikes. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 196-320.

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

One Response

  1. Indeed, some sunbirds exhibit strong territorial display act especially during the peak breeding season. I was making some images of nesting olive-backed sunbirds when the male returned twice within some 20min time frame and displayed a hovering act immediately infront of my lens within arm’s reach. I was positive that the same male bird would not hesitate to turn aggressive (perceived, cannot be scientifically proven)at closer proximity. However, agreesive as these olive-backed are, they are certainly no match for the male plain-throated sunbirds. For example, a male plain-throated sunbird has been observed to consistently monopolise an entire touch ginger garden for several years and till this day, the male still lay claim to its dominiant of 10 x 10 sq meters.

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