‘Sugar Fight’ at an African Tulip Tree

on 6th January 2024

Many birds feed on the nectar found in the flowers of the Spathodea campanulata, commonly called the African Tulip Tree (Wee-Yeow Chin & Amar-Singh HSS 2023). If the tree is located close to the forest, then a number of Spiderhunter species will usually turn up (Amar-Singh HSS 2022).

There is often some competitive feeding at these trees. The Spectacled Spiderhunters will often actively chase away other species of Spiderhunters and other birds; often making loud calls.

On 04 January 2024, Perak, Malaysia, we were able to observe a number of birds feeding on Spathodea campanulata nectar. They included Spectacled Spiderhunters Arachnothera flavigaster, Grey-breasted Spiderhunters Arachnothera modesta, Yellow-eared Spiderhunters Arachnothera chrysogenys, Yellow-vented Bulbuls Pycnonotus goiavier and Javan Mynas Acridotheres javanicus.

As observed in the past, the Spectacled Spiderhunters were very aggressive in chasing away other Spiderhunter species. To our surprise one Spectacled Spiderhunter attempted to harass a Javan Myna. It fluttered just above the feeding Javan Myna and repeatedly approached close to ‘threaten it’ (image 1).

Image 1: Spectacled Spiderhunter trying to displace a Javan Myna from feeding.

The Javan Myna assumed a defensive position but did not move from the flower, unlike other birds; it displayed the wings a number of times (image 2) and, on one occasion, lunged out at the Spiderhunter (image 3).

Image 2: Javan Myna displaying wings to Spectacled Spiderhunter.
Image 3: Javan Myna lunging at Spectacled Spiderhunter.

After a number of attempts, the Spectacled Spiderhunter aborted the attempt and the Javan Myna continued feeding at a number of flowers. Note the breast of the Myna that is heavily stained with pollen from feeding (image 4). Unlike the Spiderhunters, the Mynas have to dip much of the body into the flower cup to get to the nectar; they will then tilt the head back to drink.

Image 4: Breast of Javan Myna heavily stained with pollen from feeding.


  1. Wee-Yeow Chin & Amar-Singh HSS. (2023). Bird Tree Series: Birds Relationships to the African Tulip Tree Spathodea campanulata. Malaysian Bird Report. Volume 2/2023, September 2023: pg. 63-66. Link:
  2. Amar-Singh HSS. (2022). African Tulip Tree and Spiderhunters. Bird Ecology Study Group.

Amar & Chua
(Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS & Chong-Hock Chua)
Perak, Malaysia

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.

Amar-Singh HSS

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Cert Theology (Aust, Hons), MBBS (Mal), MRCP (UK), FRCP (Glasg), MSc Community Paediatrics (Ldn, dist), is a Consultant Paediatrician. He served the Malaysian civil service for more than 35 years, led regional Paediatric and Research departments, is an active child advocate and the recipient of a number of international awards. He has been a bird watcher for around 50 years, published two bird books, has a number of international bird publications, contributed to more than 20 international bird books/guides, and contributes to online bird image and audio databases. He is an active contributor to the Bird Ecology Study Group with a large number of detailed posts and write-ups on bird ecology. He is a life member of the Malaysian Nature Society, a member of the BCC-MNS Records Committee, a member of the Oriental Bird Club and supports eBird. He is interested in spending time getting to know bird behaviour and considers himself a bird-friend. Amar is based at Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.

Other posts by Amar-Singh HSS

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