April 4th – Kenya Vignette #3 – Rays of Sunshine

Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Note the blue flecking on the scarlet breast.

Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Note the blue flecking on the scarlet breast.


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.
Beautiful Sunbird.

Beautiful Sunbird.


Dorsal view - Beautiful Sunbird; note: long central rectrices.

Dorsal view – Beautiful Sunbird; note: long central rectrices.


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.
Copper Sunbird amid Leonotis flowers.

Copper Sunbird amid Leonotis flowers.


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.
Male Green-headed Sunbird (left) and Olive Sunbird (right).

Male Green-headed Sunbird (left) and Olive Sunbird (right).


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.
Green-headed Sunbird.

Green-headed Sunbird.


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.
Male Olive Sunbird showing coloured  erectile pectoral tufts.

Male Olive Sunbird showing coloured erectile pectoral tufts.


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.
Marico Sunbird.

Marico Sunbird.


Dorsal view of a Marico Sunbird - note: ordinary central rectrices.

Dorsal view of a Marico Sunbird – note: ordinary central rectrices.


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.
Dark dorsal look at an otherwise brilliant Scarlet-chested Sunbird.

Dark dorsal look at an otherwise brilliant Scarlet-chested Sunbird.


Ventral side of a Scarlet-chested Sunbird for comparison.

Ventral side of a Scarlet-chested Sunbird for comparison.


Leonotis flowers were very common in the Matangwe area - and heavily used by sunbirds.      -Google photo.

Leonotis flowers were very common in the Matangwe area – and heavily used by sunbirds. -Google photo.


Rick

1 thought on “April 4th – Kenya Vignette #3 – Rays of Sunshine

  1. Beautiful – thanks for sharing the “sunshine” Hopefully we will have our own soon!

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