What do sunbirds eat?

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Sunbirds are a group of small Old World passerine birds that feed mainly on nectar but also take insects and small fruits (left top). When feeding their young, insects are the main diet.

Sunbirds are considered the jewels of the Old World tropics. Many species, especially the males, possess glittering iridescent colours. In morphology and nectar feeding behaviour, they remind one of the hummingbirds of the neotropics. In both groups, the females are plain. But sunbirds and hummingbirds are definitely not related.

Sunbirds are omnivorous, feeding primarily on nectar and insects. When feeding on nectar they prefer to perch rather than hover as hummingbirds do. For nectar, these birds probe a wide range of plant, rather than specialising on specific species. With exotic plants where the birds may not be able to reach the nectar, they may short circuit the process by probing through the base of the petals, as sometime they do with hibiscus flowers.

Sunbirds also glean the foliage for insects or sally for flying insects from the top of shrubs (left bottom). They also eat small fruits. And possibly also pollen.

Text by YC Wee, images of Purple-throated Sunbird (Nectariniua sperata) (top) and Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarinia jugularis) with an insect in its bill (bottom) are by Johnny Wee.

27 Responses

  1. this is very good

  2. thank you !
    that helped!

  3. Thanks, I caught a nectariniua sperata, hahaha I don’t want it to die, I want to train it, is it posible?

  4. Why don’t you just release it?

  5. i have got a sunbird. it has not learned to fly well. can i touch him with my hands

  6. Sure, but handle it with care. If the parents are around, let them take care of the young bird.

  7. Hi, I found a baby Olive-backed sunbird in my office carpark a few days ago (it was chirping loudly and in the middle of a lot), and I brought the bird home. It already has feathers and can fly low, but still needs to be hand fed.
    Can I have some advice on whether I would be able to release it back to the wild? I currently feed it a variety comprosing of worms, baby food and it drinks honey water. Any advice? Thanks.

    • First and foremost, you should have placed the baby sunbird in a safe place (away from stray cats, etc) and not remove it from the area, The adults are nearby and will take care of it. If it is eating what you are feeding it, then it is alright. Why not send it back to where you found it, in a box maybe and placed a little high up?

  8. what sunbird like to eat

  9. nectar, insects… as stated above.

  10. Hi

    We have a Baby sunbird who has fled the nest more than once and is quite helpless – the adults may still be around but we keep finding him on the ground in our garden

    a) can we put him back in the nest again – we have done this once and the adults continued to feed him

    b) if we handle him and feed him as well ( he seems very hungry) will the adults ignore him ?

    thanks in advance Phillipa

    • By all means place the chick back onto the nest. The adults will then take over. No need to feed it unless the adults fail to return for whatever reasons.

  11. found a baby “suikerbekkie” in the garden. it can’t fly yet, jumps around and when he tries to fly he falls. I can’t find the nest and there are plenty dogs & cats around. I really don’t want to captive a young wild bird but also don’t want to see it become my pet’s snack… what do I do?

  12. My parents found a black-naped oriole fledgling on the ground early 2015. They placed the young bird in an open cage, hung near shelter from the sun. The took it out in the day and kept it in their house at night. The fledgling’s parent came to feed it, as well as possibly an older sibling. ( You could see the older sibling was clumsier at feeding but tried to help). These creatures have community and they have much knowledge on how to bring up their young ( diet, stage of growth). With cooperation with bird and human, the fledgling is now a strong juvenile and flying around the canopy.My father still puts food out for her.

  13. Yes, we should not remove newly fledged birds home but leave them on a higher ground for the adults to feed them. They will eventually fly off by themselves.

  14. Do sunbirds also eat seeds at all (e.g. the birdseed sold in bird shops)? Also, is it a good idea to leave birdseed out on trays for birds to eat (e.g. on balconies)? Please advise, thanks!

    • Sunbirds do take fruits occasionally, the soft parts. Not sure about birdseeds though. Personally, I see nothing wrong feeding birds in your balcony as long as it is not taken to extreme.

  15. Lee Chiu San

    Many birds DO NOT eat birdseed, not only Sunbirds. If you want to raise birds in captivity, do proper research on what they eat well beforehand before attempting to obtain the birds. Some species have extremely specialised diets. For example, Pittas need huge amounts of earthworms. They also cannot be raised in aviaries with hard floors, otherwise they develop foot problems.
    Even certain varieties of supposedly commonly kept birds may have unusual nutritional needs if you want them to remain healthy. For example, though most parrots will SURVIVE on a diet of seeds, to really see them thrive, you need to include fruits, vegetables, eggshells or bones. Yes, the latter are necessary to provide calcium.
    And there are parrots that simply will not live long on seeds alone. Lorikeets and Eclectus are examples.

  16. Hi,
    I have a baby sunbird that was found on the ground with a broken right leg (just above the bend of the leg)…couldn’t find the nest in any of the trees nearby & plenty of predators around. I took it home & am trying to raise it… I have successfully raised various other birds over the years (all seed eaters though) & feel that I am out of my depth with this little bird. I have googled what to feed a sunbird: honey mixed with fruit flies / sypup with ants etc… what do you recomend… I found him on the morning of the 01/01/16 & have been feeding him on these 2 things so far, but am worried that it is not the right thing for him – please help?

  17. Lee Chiu San

    For your sunbird you can try pureed, sweetened baby food from a bottle, the kind human babies are fed on. Try one of the fruit flavours.
    Also, handfeeding formula for baby parrots might work. You can get it from Goodwill Bird Trading at Serangoon North Avenue 2. But it is expensive, and a can, meant for maybe three or four babies of the large parrot breeds, will be enough to feed hundreds of sunbirds. Sometimes, they will sell you small packets for about $7. The adult sunbirds will eat it, but I am not sure about a baby. Sorry to say, I don’t think the chances of survival are high.

  18. I found a nest and it appears the adult has abandoned them
    I am trying to find out what I can feed them
    I have been looking for bugs but can’t find any.
    I have some lychees and mince at work. Is any of this any good

  19. HI Stuart – Please refer to Chiu San’s reply to Candice above.

  20. Hello there! Do sunbirds eat leaves?

  21. Hello,

    I got a sunbird and it is not yet fully learnt flying and it was abandoned. can some one tell what should I feed it?

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