Olive-backed Sunbird nesting: 1. Judy Raft’s experience…

posted in: Interspecific, Nesting, Sunbirds | 1

Our post “Olive-backed Sunbird: A miscalculated nesting” attracted a number of comments from readers in Australia. Among these, Judy Raft’s “comments” made over a period of three months make a wonderful story of her experience with a pair of nesting Yellow-bellied Sunbird, also called Olive-backed Sunbirds (Cinnyris jugularis). Below is Judy’s story:

Female Olive-backed Sunbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)
Female Olive-backed Sunbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)

“5th November 2016: We are into our second round of Yellow-bellied Sunbird breeding. First time was off a string under the eaves. Sadly the nest was predated and unsuccessful. We didn’t know how to help. All the stuffing had been pulled out.

Male Olive-backed Sunbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)
Male Olive-backed Sunbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)

“This time, a year later, a couple had built their nest off the end of a tree fern frond outside our bedroom French doors. We get to watch her nesting and eagerly await the eggs to hatch.

Black Butcherbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)
Black Butcherbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)

“Our dogs seem to know and keep watch protecting the nest. We hope the butcherbirds and kookaburras don’t get access as they seem to be aware. We back onto a rainforest and her nest opening faces it.

“She has been sitting for two weeks now and eggs should be close to hatching. In six days time we have a floor sander coming to sand the deck and stain it. A small deck is right under her nest and shouldn’t take too long to sand it. Eggs should be hatched. My question is how stressing will this be for her?

Pied Butcherbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)
Pied Butcherbird (Photo credit: Dr Eric Tan)

“15th November 2016: The deck sanding is completed and mummy sunbird seemed to handle it ok continuing to feed and sit throughout. Fortunately the man doing the sanding was very careful and mindful of the nest.

“Our house backs onto a rainforest and we have numerous bird activities including butcherbirds and kookaburras. Sunbirds have built their nest facing rainforest hanging off a tree fern frond outside bedroom windows. In full view!

“These birds have been interested and more so now that there is a chick in the nest. We and our dogs have been on guard, but hard to maintain.

“I had a brainwave and set up a structure around the nest. This involved buying some retractable willow stick trellis from Bunnings. My husband attached it to the eaves in front and behind the nest and tree fern. This seems to have provided safety, looks good and natural and birdies are happy, they can fly through and under. We are close to chick becoming a fledgling and leaving the nest. Few days to go yet, so hopefully it will make it.

Blue-winged Kookaburra (Phto credit: Dr EricTan)
Blue-winged Kookaburra (Phto credit: Dr EricTan)

“A kookaburra is very interested and sits in a tree watching. The sunbirds warn he is there and I turn the hose on him to get rid of him, but he keeps coming back. Yesterday he did a full and fast swoop at the nest, however couldn’t get at it. Maybe the structure works?

“He’s back today. I have wrapped some fern fronds around the structure to give some camouflage and weather protection for nest. Fingers crossed – it works and we have success. Tough gig. Birdies happy and mum and dad working hard on feeding junior.

Laughing Kookaburra (Phto credit: Dr EricTan)
Laughing Kookaburra (Phto credit: Dr EricTan)

“21st November 2016: The baby sunbird is now a fledgling. Yesterday she was very active and spent the day half in and out of nest, preening herself (yes it is a girl) and being fed. She looked very keen to go. Kookaburra still hanging around and. I spent the day chasing it with hose/water. Baby is safe behind structure and parents coming and going with ease. I think she will leave the nest very soon.

“21st November 2016: Today she left the nest. Didn’t see her go. Mum left early and came back with food. I didn’t see the chick again although I did think I saw something small and yellow fly away. Dad came, checked nest and flew back and forward to nest. Mum also came back and checked nest.

“Midday the parents are calling, flying back to nest, checking around house and even flew into house and checked rooms. I think they have lost her? I also think she left the nest without her parents knowing. Only hope the bad birds didn’t get her.

“Haven’t seen the kookaburra at all this morning. And would have known if he was out there. Is this normal for young birds to fly away unknown??

(BESG responded: Fledging chicks need to be urged by the adults to leave the nest. The latter may lure them with food to get them to leave. The first flight out of the nest is a major step forward, after which the adults need to show the fledgling how to forage, how to avoid predators, etc. I don’t think the chick would leave by itself. Is it possible that the chick was taken by a predator? Or lost its balance and fell off the nest?)

“21st November 2016: No to both. Definitely not predated and did not fall out of nest. Nest outside bedroom French doors. Mummy left nest 6am. I opened one door and then watched nest for a while. Didn’t see the chick, but heard a few cheeps. Parents came back a couple of times and looked like they were feeding her. Unusual not to see the chick then.

“Parents seem quite distressed and have been looking for her. Is it possible she flew yesterday afternoon and mum slept in an empty nest all night. We were out but all seemed normal when we returned late afternoon. Can’t believe we got this far with it to lose her at last minute.

(BESG responded: Mum would not sleep in an empty nest if the chick is absent!}

“21st November 2016: Oh dear. I have grave fears for the little one.

“One parent has been hanging in the rainforest trees at back of house and making a racket if the butcher birds or kookaburra comes around. Is it possible that the chick is with them and they are still feeding her? Maybe they are teaching her how to avoid predators. I just haven’t seen them with the chick?

“Odd behaviour this morning. A female sunbird was feeding from the heleconias in our garden this morning and out of the blue the male flew in and attacked her. She flew away. Don’t think it was his mate. Maybe he was being territorial and protective cause he has young?

“I really enjoy your helpful advise.

“22 Nov 2016: I think I have seen the baby with parents. Two females and a male. Also baby joined dad in a hose bath. Yea.

(BESG responded: If the baby is united with its parents, good news then. All’s well that ends well.)

“7th January 2017: Can’t believe it. We had just removed protection structure from around the tree fern and nest. Approx 3 weeks after last successful nesting, hatching and fledging. The sunbird parents came back and happily did some maintenance on existing nest then flew away. Around 17/12 mama came back and started sitting. This is the same nest hanging on the end of a tree fern frond outside bedroom glass doors. We had to put the structure back up. Mama happy, protected from predators.

“Babies hatched over Xmas/NY period and both parents busily feeding. The weather turned very nasty – storms, strong winds and heavy rain for 4 days and nights. Such a good mama, she stayed with her babies the whole time and the nest is still intact. We have discovered there are two hungry chicks. Both parents braving the weather and feeding.

“It seems that the predators have not been aware of the nesting yet, however there are a lot of butcherbirds around. No more than usual though. And we have been visited by a couple of kookaburras that have had a splash in our pool. Fingers crossed we have a successful fledge. Should be another week away.

“13th January 2017: Successful fledge. Just saw the parent sunbirds coach the two chicks from the nest and fly into the cluster of lipstick palms nearby in our backyard. The chicks are still in there and mama is feeding them. The forest appears to be very quiet and no predators. Papa sunbird is keeping a close eye over the area. So beautiful and we feel so privileged to witness this.”

Judy Raft
Queensland, Australia
12th January 2017

Thanks to Dr Eric Tan for permission to make use of his images shown above.

  1. Lynn Harding

    Our sunbird nest was created in December 2021 hanging off the dendrills of a potted grape vine over our patio. I couldn’t prune the grapevine properly for concern for the nest. We had one clutch then nothing happened for months even though we have a lot of sunbirds in our tropical garden. Over recent weeks we’ve delighted in watching the nest activity. In recent days mum has been feeding her chicks. Babes had a high pitched chirp. Mum flew in and out frequently. Last night she was sitting in the nest at dusk. This morning the whole nest was gone! I felt so sad. I checked the whole garden but there’s no sign of the nest – or of fallen chicks… as for predators, we have so many birds in our garden the ‘nasty’ one could have been anyone. I hope they return and rebuild.

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