The male Scarlet-chested sunbird is a magnificent bird. Fairly large for a sunbird, with a length of about 15 cm and a weight of up to 16 g, they are a sooty black overall, but with a brilliant metallic green crown and throat, with the lower throat and chest a bright scarlet. Admittedly, the green crown and throat are not always noticeable in the field, but when the sun catches it, the colours glow wonderfully. As with many of the sunbirds, the female suffers by comparison and is rather drab, with a greenish brown back; yellow bellow, and mottled with brown on throat and chest. As with the male, the bill, legs and feet are black
The Scarlet-chested sunbird is widely spread throughout Africa South of Sahara; inhabiting woodland, riverine bush, and also gardens. In South Africa it is a common resident in most areas, although it is absent from most of Cape Province. It is usually solitary or may be found in pairs.
They feed on nectar, especially favouring Aloes, while hovering or while perched and will often feed while hanging upside-down. They also eat insects and spiders. In summer, when the aloes are in flower, these birds are a dazzling sight.
The voice of the Scarlet-chested sunbird is a loud series of 3-5 notes that are repeated over and over, “chip cheeu chip chip”. The male perches quite conspicuously on the top of a tree while singing and is a delight to watch as he puffs out his scarlet chest. Of course the song is also a declaration of his presence and a marking of his territory, which he defends quite aggressively against intruders.
The nest of the Scarlet-chested sunbird is an untidy ball of grass and leaves, often bound together with spider webs. It may be lined with hair or feathers, or with soft plant material and is suspended from the branch of a tree, usually over water. The female lays a clutch of 1 to 3 white or cream eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 16 days. The nest may be parasitized by Klaas’s cuckoo or the Emerald cuckoo (Chrysococcyx cupreus).
The binomial for the Scarlet-chested sunbird is Chalcomitra senegalensis. Chalcomitra from the Greek for a copper or bronze headband and senegalensis after the West Africa country of Senegal.