One of the fairly common avian residents of the arid western parts of Southern Africa is a small sunbird, just about 11 cm in length, which is busily active even in the midday heat, often found at flowering aloes or other plants, either singly or in groups, moving restlessly from flower to flower. This is the Dusky sunbird.
During the breeding season the male is predominantly black, with an attractive metallic sheen, and a white belly. The female, as is common with sunbirds, is rather dull by comparison, with grayish-brown upper parts and white under parts. The male is slightly larger than the female and in both sexes the eyes are dark brown; the bill, legs and feet are black.
Classified as a “near-endemic” in the Southern African region, the Dusky sunbirds feed mainly on nectar and also on insects and spiders, which they may glean from leaves or flowers; take while in flight or pluck from spider webs while hovering briefly. They are known to move from area to area in response to the availability of food. The call is commonly a loud “TSK” followed by trill “trr, trr, trr” lasting about two seconds.
Dusky sunbirds are monogamous and they build an oval nest of grass, leaves and other plant material, which is often fastened to a branch with spider webs. The female lays two or three white eggs that are variably mottled with brown. The eggs hatch after an incubation period of approximately 13 days. They are sometimes parasitised by the Klaas’s cuckoo.
The scientific name of the Dusky sunbird is Cinnyris fuscus; Cinnyris from the Greek meaning shining and fuscus from the Latin meaning dull or dusky. Thus a shining, dull bird, which sounds a little contradictory, really. On the other hand, the male is shiny and the female dull…
The Dusky sunbird has been featured on a Namibian postage stamp – an image can be viewed here.