It was a raw morning at Ruthven: just 2 degrees, overcast with a light intermittent drizzle, and a cold, penetrating wind out of the north. So we just opened a few nets and closed as soon as the drizzle turned to rain.
To “fight off” the rawness, I got to thinking about the heat of Kenya and, especially, those brilliant little feathered bundles of sunshine: sunbirds. In terms of an ecological niche, sunbirds are like our hummingbirds; they probe tubular flowers with their long decurved bills for nectar and insects. Although they can hover to a limited degree, they prefer to perch, unlike hummers which hover almost all the time. Sunbirds, which are found pretty well throughout Africa and southern Asia, are larger than hummers. For example, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds weigh only 3 grams while Beautiful Sunbirds weigh around 10 and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds up around 13 grams.
They are similar in that their plumage is, in many species, iridescent. Male Sunbirds flash a marvellous array of colours when the sun hits them. On the other hand there are a few species that are quite plain – see the picture of the Green-headed and Olive Sunbirds for a comparison.
The breeding males of most species can be identified fairly readily but males in “eclipse” plumage or females can be a BIG headache to separate out.
They typically lay 1 to 2 eggs in a nest that looks like a long domed pouch, often with a “porch-like projection” covering the opening.
I have just seen them during the dry season and, so, don’t know much about their seasonal movements but evidently they shift their ranges in response to flowering….which depends on the timing and extent of the rains.
There are 36 species listed in the official Checklist of the Birds of Kenya. After this past visit I am up to 12 species – and everyone of them a delight.