Wells (2007) indicates that in Peninsula Malaysia direct evidence of the Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis feeding on nectar is lacking and suggests that they eat mainly arthropods and insects. Cheke & Mann (2001) state that apart from insects and caterpillars they also feed on “fruits, pollen and nectar”.
I have previously written about my observations of the feeding behaviour of the Ruby-cheeked Sunbird (Chalcoparia singalensis interposita), see Amar-Singh HSS (2010). In that article I noted that “… I have yet to observe a Ruby-cheeked Sunbird feeding on nectar, even though many flowering plants were present in some of the locations observed. Arthropods, insects, caterpillars and larvae form the major part of the specie’s diet. The birds are especially fond of spiders and will go to great lengths to find them. Not many guides mention them taking fruits, but I have observed that fruits do play an important part of their diet particularly when feeding young.”
On 9th May 2023, at a forest site on the outskirts of Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, I saw an adult female Ruby-cheeked Sunbird feeding on the seeds of the Commersonia bartramia (Brown Kurrajong, Scrub Christmas Tree). When I first saw the bird, I thought it was taking nectar from the copious flowers of this small tree; usually 6-15 meters in height and often found in locations with full sunlight where forest has been cleared or damaged. But continued observation showed that it was visiting and exploring the fruits (see image 1); the fruit is a hairy, dark capsule 15–25 mm long and contains yellow or orange seeds (aril?) that are 1.5-2 mm in size.
It was difficult to photo-document the actual feeding, as seeds were consumed quickly. But images 2 and 3 show the seed in the bird’s beak (in image 3 the bird is obscured but the seed in the beak is clear). Once it had fed on a number of seeds, it went over to a Trema orientalis tree to feed on the fruit. No insect or invertebrate prey were seen during this feeding episode.
An update on food items I have observed the species consume include:
- Insects, particularly spiders. They will explore curled leaves, look under foliage and inspect spiderwebs. I have seen them take spiders, ants, aphids, larvae and caterpillars. I often think of them as true ‘spiderhunters’.
- Fruit of the Macaranga bancana, Macaranga heynei, Macaranga gigantea,Trema orientalis, Ficus benjamin, Bridelia tomentosa and two other small unidentified fruits.
- Arils and seeds of the Acacia mangium.
- I have observed one nectar feeding episode of a Ruby-cheeked Sunbird on Mimusops elengi (Tanjong Tree, Bunga Tanjung or Spanish Cherry).
Juveniles and chicks (nestlings) are fed insects, larvae, caterpillars, spiders and other insects, as well as fruit, in particular Bridelia tomentosa, Trema orientalis, Ficus fruit (given piece-meal).
Wells, D.R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 2 (Passerines). Christopher Helm, London.
Robert A Cheke, Clive F Mann, Richard Allen (2001). Sunbirds: A Guide to the Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters and Sugarbirds of the World. Helm Identification Guides
Amar-Singh HSS (2010). Feeding habits and behaviour of the Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis in Perak, Malaysia. BirdingASIA 14: 46–51.
Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia
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