Olive-backed Sunbird – nectar from Bougainvillea

“Was at Kuching for a regional paediatric congress and, as usual, tried to see what the city has to offer. Generally too much construction and development and bird life has diminished from when I worked there in the late 1980s. At that time I experienced a bird watcher’s paradise.

“I had an interesting observation on the waterfront of the city. I saw a breeding pair (from the delightful, rich plumage) of Olive-backed Sunbirds (Cinnyris jugularis ornatus) feeding extensively on Bougainvillea flowers.

“The problem is that I do not consciously remember every having seen a bird feed on Bougainvillea flowers in all my years of watching. I had always assumed that they did not contain nectar. Locally they are called “Bunga Kertas”, translated “paper flowers”, implying their ornamental value. I have always been against my city council planting them as they are of little value to wildlife, especially birds.

“There are even reports, if you do a net search, that Bougainvillea flowers trick hummingbirds into wasting precious energy trying to drink from empty blossoms.

“So I was curious as to these two busily visiting every flower in the patch of Bougainvillea. Definitely nectar sources have diminished in the city. So are there two getting some small bits from these flowers or also fooled?

“I wonder if anyone has experience with botany to state that Bougainvillea flowers have nectar, or if it varies for different sub-species of Bougainvillea.

“A short video of female and then male feeding above:”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Kuching City, Sarawak, Malaysia
Urban environment; late afternoon, bright day
10th September 2012

9 Responses

  1. Angie

    Yes; I’ve photographed a butterfly feeding on the small white flowers of a similar species of bourgainvillea.

  2. Lena

    Bougainvilleas are definitely a nectar source for butterflies. I have recorded a few species feeding on the blooms in my garden.

  3. Bev

    Glad to know they have some value to birds and butterflies. I only knew that to prevent rats from taking up residence in the dense foliage, that one must keep it well trimmed close to the ground.

  4. Devasahayam

    Though there are many potted plants of Bougainvillea in my neighbouhood I have never seen sun birds feeding on its nectar in Kozhikode, India. However according to literature available, four species of sun birds are known to feed on nectar of Bougainvillea spectabilis in India.

  5. Andra Fabac

    Since planting my purple bougainvillea, I have had a continued problem with beehives in an area that is not safe to have them. As a horticulturist and once (near) master gardener, I read a research paper out of university in London stating beehives are most successful when there are purple flowers near. However, there is question in the horticulture community if bougainvillea flowers actually have nectar. Bougainvillea does have pollen and bees need pollen for viral protein and fats.

  6. YC Wee

    Butterflies also visit bougainvilleas.. You can use the search engine here to locate bougainvilleas and butterflies.

  7. small apple

    Hi just saw a olive backed sunbird nest hanging on the branch of bougainvillea in my balcony in Singapore. Although bougainvillea is not a nectar source for sunbird, it’s branch is strong enough to hold a nest and a good place for sunbird to rest on. I enjoy watching them. Lovely!

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