Nectariniidae – Sunbirds & spiderhunters

This family of nectar-sipper replaces hummingbirds in the Old world

Comprised of the vibrant sunbirds and spiderhunters, it is a splendid representation of tropical avian diversity, with its members embellishing the landscapes of Africa, Asia, and Australasia. These small and agile birds are akin to the hummingbirds of the New World, both in form and function, with their slender bodies and long, decurved bills perfectly evolved for sipping nectar from flowers.

Male sunbirds exhibit a kaleidoscope of iridescent plumage that shimmers in the sunlight, an attribute that serves the purpose of attracting mates and adds a visual spectacle for any observer. The females and juveniles are usually dressed in more subdued colors, providing them with better camouflage from predators. Their diets primarily consist of nectar, which they obtain through their unique hovering capability or, more commonly, by perching delicately on flower branches. Despite their dainty appearance, they are also proficient insectivores, particularly when feeding their young, providing them with the essential proteins needed for growth.

The breeding habits of the Nectariniidae are fascinating, with most species being monogamous. The nests of sunbirds are often pendulous, artfully woven structures suspended from tree branches, while spiderhunters typically construct cup-shaped nests. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the chicks, showcasing a collaborative approach to raising their offspring.

Sunbirds and spiderhunters are fiercely territorial; they vigorously defend their feeding and breeding areas. They have been known to engage in aerial chases and even “mob” potential predators, sometimes in conjunction with other bird species, to protect their territory and young.

Despite their resilience and adaptability to various environments, members of the Nectariniidae family face significant threats from human activities. Deforestation, habitat loss, and the illegal pet trade contribute to the decline of certain species within this family. Additionally, the changes in flowering plant populations due to climate change can affect the availability of their primary food source, nectar.