Janice Kwek’s Olive-backed Sunbirds

on 17th July 2011

“It has finally happened to me. A pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds started building a nest on the branches of my Ficus benjamina ‘Variegated White’ plant on my balcony on the third floor. And I saw the whole nest building process from day one (19th Feb 2011). Part of the nesting materials came from the stem of my orchid.

“The video clip above shows both the male and female sunbirds building their nest on 21 Feb 2011. Most of the work was done by the female bird subsequently.

“After the nest was completed on 1st March, the female bird disappeared for over a week, only to reappear on the 9th March. On 10th March, I noticed she started staying inside the nest throughout the night. I suspected that she had laid her eggs and was incubating them, I peered into the nest to check. She had laid a clutch of two speckled eggs. I’m expecting the eggs to hatch on 22nd to 25th March.

“Where was the male sunbird? He had disappeared for more than a week. The female bird chirped loudly whenever she was about to enter the nest, as if calling out for her mate. But he did not respond so far. She kept quiet only when she was inside the nest.
“On 23rd March, papa bird started appearing near the nest. That evening at 6pm, I was alerted by loud, unusual chirpings and thus went out to see what was the commotion. I spotted papa bird on a branch but did not see mama bird. Later, after he flew off, I realised she was right inside the nest, not her usual position with her head sticking out.

“After she flew off, I inspected the nest by taking a few shots. Indeed, one of the eggs had hatched. I was expecting the other egg to hatch the next day but it hatched on the following day. Both parents took turns feeding the chicks. And the mother sunbird has also been regularly removing the fecal sac from her chicks.

On the morning of 5th April, I was pleasantly surprised to see that papa sunbird also removed the fecal sac from the chicks. I managed to capture a video clip of papa sunbird in action today (above).

Janice Kwek
July 2011

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

7 Responses

  1. I’m reading this detailed description as I’m trying to make sense of what I saw at a Purple Sunbird nest. The nest must have been in the final phase of construction and the male and female were visiting it every few minutes. The female always brought a piece of grass or fluff and would place it inside the nest. Then the male would come fairly quickly afterwards but with no material, and pop his head inside the nest and then soon fly off. It was hard to see what the male was accomplishing – did he have final say on the arrangements? His bright coloring is what first attracted our attention to the nest, which seems rather counter-productive. I’m curious about what his role in the construction was. I’m not really sure how much the habits of the different sunbirds vary, but if anyone has any observations I’d love to hear them.

  2. Hi,

    There’s another olive-backed sunbird nest with two eggs in the same plant on my balcony now. As previously, the male only helped in the “foundation” of nest-building. He would also hurry her if he sees she’s ‘late’ by tweetering loudly till she reappeared with nesting materials in her beak. My guess is that since the female is the one incubating the eggs and staying overnight in the nest till they hatch, she did 99% of the nest-building. The male was never seen rearranging anything. At the final stage, she was always seen with fluff. When both were feeding and removing the chicks’ fecal sac, they did it from the entrance of the nest.

    1. Nice stuff. I’ve got a newly hatched one (another egg unhatched). Guess that’s why I’m browsing sunbird related materials. Glad to read that the egg might hatch a day later. That will save me a bit of worry if it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

      My girlfriend has… complained about the male sunbird’s “poor work ethic” after I reported that I hardly saw him helping to build the nest. (They actually occupied a dead airplant, and I had to build a base for the nest supported by thread to make sure it didn’t fall.) The male sunbird was missing for a long time and showed up once a few days ago.

  3. Hi Janice, thanks for your reply! It seems in the case I saw too that the male may be trying to demonstrate his involvement in the nesting, though it is not in a material way. From your descriptions it seems that it is necessary for the male to do quite a lot of work after hatching, so maybe he wants to demonstrate his “commitment” during the nesting too (a kind of pair bonding?). Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make further observations on that nest, though others may have the chance to sometimes.

    1. Hi Gretchen,
      In any case, I think the male sunbird’s presence is important too. I have ever witnessed another pair of sunbird trying to ‘rob’ the nesting materials of the yet to be completed nest. Or maybe they wanted to use the nest. The male bird showed up and chased both birds away, with his mate’s help. He was loud as usual and that was why I noticed.

      Too bad you can’t observe your nest further. I learn something different everyday.

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