Sunbird nesting in my underwear…

on 17th March 2012

Lim Ting Han sent in images of a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds (Nectarinia jugularis) building their nest in his underwear hanging out to dry (above). Obviously he is unable to make use of that piece of clothing for some time now.

The image below (left) shows the female sunbird sitting in her nest snugly tucked inside his underwear. That on the right shows two eggs in the nest.

This is the first time we have heard of such a nesting location. We did report of Yellow-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier) making their nests in odd places like in a bunch of artificial flowers LINK. Or of the Olive-backed Sunbirds (Cinnyris jugularis) building their nest around a light bulb LINK, or even around various parts of a bicycle LINK. But in someone’s underwear?

Lim Ting Han
March 2012

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

45 Responses

  1. Wow !!! this is indeed a new nesting record. Also maybe the bird
    likes the smell of the underwear. Wonder which brand of washing liquid
    you are using ???

  2. Haha.. yes indeed. We were quite shocked to see the birds do that as well..

    Well if you must know its just normal washing detergent? hahaha. For use in front load washing machines.. =)

    We are still awaiting the hatching of the birdlings.. Not sure how long more it will take. =)

    Will update once the little ones come out. =)

  3. Hi Ting Han, I am just wandering how long was your underwear was hanging in the kitchen before
    the bird took the opportunity of using it as a place to build a nest ???

  4. Hi KC,

    It was only a few days, the most 3 to 4 days. Could be shorter, cannot remember how long, cos the birds started with some strands of grass and plastic and placed them in the underwear, so we left this particular one there, we tried to change the place to hang just at the window, perpendicular to the poles, but it changed to another underwear which was there. haha. so we shifted it back to the poles but put it at the last one. It somehow liked it to be a bit shaky? or maybe not too near the window. =)

  5. Hi Ting Han,

    the birds like to build their nest on springy twigs, as it will alert them to predators creeping up to the nest. the only thing that can creep on to a springy twig without shaking it would be snakes.

    3 to 4 days, I must say that the birds worked pretty fast. Keep us posted on the progress…. Cheers !!!

    1. I have the feeling that Sunbirds (possibly Olive-backed based on the calls) follow me when I walk around the playground in my condo – there are many plants here that attract Sunbirds. Whenever I turn around to look for it when this happens, the chirps stop. Perhaps this is a territorial thing.

    1. Can lay 1-3 eggs but usually 2. The 2 eggs here has much significance, considering that the nest is built in someone’s underwear.

  6. Ha..ha. I have been following this unusual and entertaining episode. YC has good sense of humour and to follow his track mind. We look forward to fledgling day for those two family jewels to fly off and keep our fingers crossed, LTH’s similar don’t go rolling downstairs his condo and had him chasing after them!.

    LTH must have been an extremely busy man,mmm… too busy to need his suspenders perhaps and allowed this hilarious situation….??

    Yes do keep up posted LTH. Thanks for sharing this nesting incident.


  7. Haha, I am sure I would not be doing that. Though I hope we will not be scaring the young ones when they grow older. =)

    Wonder if they will come back to reuse the nest. =D

    1. Sunbirds normally return to nest. Well, two chicks (if they are both females) plus a female parent may need two more nesting sites if they are to return. Please consider hanging more.

  8. very interesting nesting site, obviously the sunbird is making advantage of the existing pouch structure rather than building one from scratch….

  9. One chick has fledged! Though sadly the other chick died of unknown reasons. I found it motionless in the nest and took it out, only finding that its neck region has a protruding object, something like its neck.. And its head is loose, like as though its head is detached.. Can only deduce that it might have happened when it fell out of the nest, or the mother bird being inexperienced might have accidentally injured it while sleeping on them.. Well at least the other one is healthy. =)

  10. It can also be siblicide – the older killing the younger to get all the attention of the adults. This happens often with the Yellow-vented Bulbul where the older kicks the younger off the nest. But I have not heard of this in sunbirds. Happily, now you can have your underwear back again!

    1. haha.. I wouldn want to use it again. Lol. It has bird shit.. hahaha. Yes intending to keep it and see if other sunbirds will want to come use it. haha. Maybe the same birds will come back and use it again as well.

  11. Ha, ha, I think Ting Han should leave his underwear hanging so that another pair of sunbirds
    can make use of it … I am sure he can afford to do that ….

  12. Hi all,

    I have had a pair of sunbird nesting in my condo balcony, they’ve built a nest on my windchime and both mum has been incubating egg for over 2 weeks now. I was away for a couple of days, came back to check, and unfortunately, the egg has been cracked open 🙁 Last night, the mother bird was still incubating the sole egg. Does anyone know what might have happened? My balcony is shielded from outside, I strongly doubt any predators could have reached it. Do these birds break their own eggs if it’s deem unsuccessful?

    Also should I clean up the nest, get rid of the broken egg? I would love for them to return… 🙁

  13. The cracking of the egg can be due to one of many reasons. A predator bird may be the cause or the parent may accidentally crack it… Leave the nest alone and do not disturb the incubating bird. Birds do not generally break their own eggs. The sunbirds will most probably return to nest again and again.

    1. Is this typical behaviour? As in, returning to a former nest site to nest again?

      I seem to notice lots of sunbirds around these days. When I was younger I hardly saw any of them. Could it be that sunbirds are becoming more successful here in Singapore?

      1. Have seen many sunbirds return to their old nests time and again. There are many such reports in this website. We are seeing more sunbirds because we have been planting more trees, shrubs… with nectar-bearing flowers.

  14. Hi YC,

    Thanks for your prompt reply. It’s amazing, I believe another sunbird has taken ownership of the nest. I can’t be 100% sure, unless the same bird is still incubating the dead embryo inside. It appears the shells have been removed from the nest too, but remnants of the embryo looks like it’s still inside.

  15. Hi all.

    Chance upon this page while searching for sunbird + nest. Cool event.

    Currently there are 2 sunbirds sleeping on a branch just outside my window. Can I hang 2 nest for them to use? I’m afraid of scaring them away. I hope to attract them to nest and stay longer.

    Now they will fly off in the morning and return (sometimes only 1) in the late evening to sleep. They didn’t build any nest, just using the branches for cover.

    Any advice would help.
    Thanks and cheers.

  16. But there are so many places near my house where this pair of sunbird nest so would they still return and I even listen their voices but unable to locate them .

  17. The pair still comes to my house to drink water so I just hanged a small basked which contains broken pieces of their nest (it was broken by to a cat ).
    How many times do they breed in the breeding season and would they make use of these pieces of old nest ?

  18. I have 2 sunbird chicks that fledged 2 weeks ago. For the first 5 days after fledging, the parents will bring both chicks to sleep on a tree near my house in the evenings. After 5 days, only 1 chick returned daily to sleep on the tree. I am afraid that the other chick might have died, but yet harbour hope that maybe, the parents might have brought each chick to sleep at different places every evening. Has anyone ever observe sunbird chicks from the same parent and whether both return every evening to sleep on the same tree?

  19. yes sunbirds always nest in same place in my bougainvillea plant from year 2016 , 2017 and this year 2018 timing always near lunar new year .

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