Olive-backed Sunbird robbing nectar from Malvaviscus

This female Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis ornatus) was photographed by Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS harvesting nectar from the flower of the Turk’s turban (Malvaviscus arboreus) on 14th August 2010 at Tambun Interior in Perak, Malaysia.

Turk’s turban is a popular ornamental shrub looking very much like the hibiscus. Its flowers stick upward, with the stamen tube extending beyond the petals, resembling partially closed hibiscus flowers. Originating from Mexico, the plant is free flowing and grows in the full sun. The flowers attract numerous sunbirds that collect nectar by puncturing a hole at the base rather than via the conventional method of inserting their bill intm the top. Being not an indigenous plant, the sunbirds are naturally not the plant’s natural pollinators.

As Amar pointed out, the Olive-backed Sunbird is “A common sunbird locally and reasonably friendly. This female, and her mate were ‘robbing nectar’ from the base of [the flower]. Intense concentration on the nectar allowed me to watch them.

“This is a common behaviour for these sunbirds who will puncture the base of flowers in the search of nectar. It is called ‘robbing nectar’ because they are supposed to pollinate the flowers while getting the nectar but here pollination does not happen as they have ‘by-passed’ the system.

“The female looked a bit immature to me. Note the feathers on the forehead, as well as the general colour of the upperparts where the olive green is not as well developed a3 I have usually seen it. Notice also the pale yellow supercilium (eyebrow) that I often miss seeing in the field.

“Incidentally, the hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), which has somehow ended up becoming our national flower, comes primarily from south China.”

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