Bird of the week – Week 31 : Marico sunbird

The first indication that you are in the presence of a Marico sunbird is often the fairly harsh “chip-chip” or “tjik-tjik,-tjik” as the pair of birds maintain contact with each other. They also have a more pleasant warbling, almost canary-like song, but this is less likely to attract your notice. If there are flowering plants nearby, that is where they are likely to be, moving briskly from flower to flower, probing for nectar through their long, well-adapted, down-curved bills.
As with many of the sunbirds, the male is a very attractive individual, while the female is somewhat drab. They are fairly small birds, about 14 cm in length, and the male is slightly larger than the female. The male is distinguished by a metallic green head, breast and back, with a broad breastband of metallic purple that shades to violet at its upper edge. The belly and the rest of the under parts are black. The female is olive grey above, the under parts pale yellow quite heavily streaked with black. Both sexes have black legs, feet and bills, and dark brown eyes.
They are fairly common residents in the central and northern parts of South Africa and Namibia and then northwards all the way to Ethiopia, preferring the drier areas of Acacias and riparian woodlands. They are also frequent visitors to gardens and parks.
Marico sunbirds are usually solitary or in pairs, although larger numbers may be found together at really good sources of food. In addition to probing for nectar in flowers, these sunbirds feed on many types of insects and spiders which they may glean from plants or catch while in flight.
They are monogamous birds, building an oval nest of grass and other plant material bound with spider webs and with a side entrance. It is usually attached to a thin branch, well above the ground in the canopy. The female lays a clutch of two cream-coloured eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 14 days.
The Marico sunbird was featured on one of the postage stamps issued in Namibia.
The scientific name of the Marico sunbird is Cinnyris mariquensis; Cinnyris from the Greek meaning “shining”, and mariquensis meaning “from the Marico”, the Marico being a district in the North West Province of South Africa. Hence a shining bird from the Marico. Not a bad description, really.

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