Feeding Behaviour of the Brown-Throated Sunbird

on 19th December 2009

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS is sharing his documentation of the Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis malacensis) feeding on spiders at his Canning Garden Home in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia during 2007-2009. He uses a Nikon D90 SLR with Tamron AF Zoom 200-500mm and photographed the birds without use of the tripod. Below is Amar’s account of his association with this sunbird.

“This is one of our favourite garden birds and we never fail to have one or two pairs in the garden all the time. Our favourite pair died recently after four years of close friendship and we miss them. They were the friendliest and enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them (they used to request twice a day showers from us). Have “immortalised” them in a book we recently wrote on garden birds (Amar-Singh, 2009). Their progeny continue to live in our garden. I have thousands of pictures of this bird and want to share a few on their feeding behaviour.

“The Brown-throated Sunbird is considered a generalist, favouring nectar (Wells, 2007). In watching them over a period of more than 35 years, I agree with this, but their behaviour favours what food is available. In our garden they feed on insects, perhaps a little more than on nectar.

“A list of the food I have seen them take in our garden includes insects and other invertebrates like spiders and caterpillars. They spend a lot of time hunting in our Neen Tree (Azadirachta indica) as well as our Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica). Other nectar sources include the Bottle Brush (Callistemon) (above left), hibiscus species, Coral Tree (Erythrina variegate/indica) (above right), Ubi Gajah or Wild Tapioca (Manihot glaziovii), Cockscomb (Celosia spicata) (? nectar or eating seed), Powder Puff (Calliandra haematocephala) and African Tulip (Spathodea campanulat) – whether nectar or drinking water has yet to be established. They also visit the Powder Puff flowers (Calliandra haematocephala).

“The Bottle Brush is a favourite and they have been “quarrelling” with the Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) for access to the nectar of the flowers. Finally we had to plant another tree at the back of our home to accommodate both of them. Now there are even more arguments and the Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) has also got involved (12/10/2005). The Coral Tree is another favourite for nectar and visited multiple times in a day (30/08/2009).

“They also take fruits, especially from mistletoes (F: Loranthaceae)… Another fruit I have seen them take recently is the Pigeonberry or Bloodberry (Rivina humilis). A medicinal shrub that has been recently introduced locally and we have been growing (or rather it spreads easily) in our garden these past two years.

“Although they are suspected of raiding spider webs, this has not been adequate documented (see Well 2007). The images above show the female sunbird with a spider in the beak (22/10/2009) with her tubular tongue still projecting our. The web was stuck to the beaks so she used her tubular tongue to push it back.

“And a female in our Neem Tree looking for spiders (left). This is a dangerous activity foraging from webs as dense webs like these can be fatal to sunbirds (see Well, 2007). I have also documented a pair (male and female), with animal prey – they searched hard in this Rain Tree (Samanea saman) in matted leaves which had ?pupa or caterpillars (15/02/2009).”

Amar-Singh, H. S. S., 2009. A friendship with birds. Desktop systems, Perak, Malaysia. 170 pp.
2. Wells, D.R., 2007. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London. 800 pp.

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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