Tag Archives: Southern double-collared sunbird

Hitting the bottle

Rob and I have been feeding birds in our garden for years – a pastime that has given us both so much pleasure and the opportunity to observe the local avian communities closely.  In Namibia, where we lived for almost seven years, the birds were extremely colourful and the variety was staggering.  Here in our new hometown of Knysna in the Western Cape, we have continued to feed them.  Although not as brightly coloured as their Namibian cousins, the birds here are plentiful and word has spread that there is a constant source of food for them in our yard.  We’ve now added a nectar feeder to the menu to attract those birds that prefer liquid nourishment.

Greater double-coloured sunbird

It took all of ten minutes after hanging the bottle up outside our kitchen window for our first guest to arrive.  Since then we’ve had a steady stream of birds eager to sip the sweet water.  If you can get your hands on a good nectar feeder you will have a wonderful time watching the antics of the birds as they vie for position.

Black-headed oriole

I particularly like watching the Speckled mousebirds that clamber on, sometimes six at a time.  Some sunbirds can be quite territorial and chase away anyone small enough to be intimidated by them.  At the moment we are enjoying a wide variety of birds, as can be seen from the photos in this blog.

Speckled mousebirds

The formula for the feeder is 600ml of water to which a third of a cup of brown sugar has been added.  After stirring well we add a few drops of food colouring to give the liquid a nice red colour.

Cape weaver

I must warn you not to add any aritificial sweeteners to your water.  A while back someone who lived near Hermanus inadvertently (and tragically) killed about thirty Cape sugarbirds (Promerops cafer) when it was found that the sugar in his nectar solution contained Xylitol, which is deadly to birds and some animals.  The nectar found naturally in flowers usually contains either fructose, glucose or sucrose.   Some garden and pet shops sell the nectar solution, but it’s expensive, so it is easier to make it at home.  Please just make sure that your food colouring does not contain any artificial sweeteners.

Amethyst sunbird

I’m not sure if this method of feeding birds is harmful to the environment (I sincerely hope not), as birds do a marvelous job of pollination when they flit from flower to flower to sip nectar.  We have noticed that in spite of our bottle of nectar, the days when our hedges and garden flowers are blooming, the birds go au natural and don’t spend as much time at our bottle as usual. When the flowers die off they come back.  Perhaps readers could comment on this aspect – it would be interesting to hear other opinions.

Cape white-eye

Obviously I can’t show photos of all the birds that come to the feeder, but the list we’ve had so far is as follows :  Cape white-eyes, Black-headed orioles, Speckled mousebirds, Amethyst sunbirds, Southern and Greater double-collared sunbirds, Fork-tailed drongos, Cape bulbuls and a variety of weavers.

Birding in Tankwa Karoo National Park

Last week I blogged about our camping trip to the Tankwa Karoo National Park.  As I said, we were blown away by the beautiful scenery, but that isn’t the only charm of this tiny arid park.  The bird life is also exciting and Rob was able to get some nice photos of the local avian residents.  So, before I start, let me ask you this – when is a tent not a tent?  When it’s a bird hide, of course!  Rob took his camera and wandered off along the dry river bed near the campsite, hoping to get photos of birds and animals, while I sat reading in our tent.  Imagine my surprise and delight when loads of birds came into our camp.  They didn’t see me and I had a wonderful couple of hours watching them unnoticed from our tent.  When Rob came back he immediately set up his camera and captured the shots that follow.

Southern double-collared sunbird

Most campsites have resident birds that are relatively tame, and this site was no exception.  A beautiful Familiar chat was quite at home around the tent, as was his constant companion, a Cape bunting.  They seemed to hang out together which was rather nice to watch.

Familiar chat

At times they were joined by two other buntings and happily pecked around on the ground for crumbs and insects.

Cape bunting

Two of the more colourful visitors were a Bokmakierie and this female African paradise flycatcher.  She came back often and wasn’t put off by the clicking of Rob’s camera at all.

African paradise flycatcher

Acting as if they owned the place was a pair of Cape spurfowl.  They wandered around and at times even got under our feet.  What beautiful feather markings these birds have.

Cape spurfowl

It being the Karoo, it wasn’t surprising that we were visited by a Karoo prinia.  These rather shy birds are not that easy to photograph as they flit about restlessly and hardly seem to sit still for a moment.

Karoo prinia

We placed a bowl of water on the ground hoping to see the birds drinking or bathing, but in spite of the heat and the desert-like conditions they weren’t interested in it at all.  It wasn’t in vain though, as we were soon visited by a field mouse that spent ages slaking its thirst.  It was so enchanted by this unexpected new water source that it disappeared into the bush and came back later with three more of its family.  They all drank as if they hadn’t seen water for years.  We tried this in the Central Kalahari once and our generosity had unintended consequences.  We had lots of birds drinking and bathing, but we also had a visit from a puffadder that wanted some water as well.  Not wanting to encourage snakes, we moved the water a long way from the campsite itself.

Karoo lark

Karoo larks, robins and batis’s were also spotted from out tent.  Later in the day we took a drive to a rather large dam where there was an abundance of waterbirds, but we couldn’t stay there for very long as there was no shade and the heat was a bit over-bearing.  If SANParks wanted any suggestions for improvements at Tankwa, I would happily recommend they erect a small shelter at the dam where people could sit in shade and watch the birds.

Next week I will chat about our drive up the stunning Gannaga Pass.

Southern double-collared sunbirds at Kirstenbosch

Last week I posted some photographs of the Orange-breasted sunbirds that we saw at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.  This week their cousins take centre stage; the beautiful Southern double-collared sunbirds, which flit amongst the Proteas and Ericas of Kirstenbosch gathering nectar and doing their bit for pollination.  Also known as the Lesser double-collared sunbird (Cinnyris chalybeus) this little sunbird has a wider habitat than the Orange-breasted sunbird and, not being restricted to fynbos, is found further afield in the Karoo, and in the forests and gardens in the eastern parts of  South Africa.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The sunbirds that we photographed here don’t have the familiar broad red breast band as they are in their eclipse plumage The adult males in the Western Cape moult in October to December, so we were probably just a little early to see these beautiful birds in their full finery.  We often find birds quite a puzzle to identify when they aren’t dressed in their full colours.

Southern double-coloured sunbird Southern double-coloured sunbird

Their diet mainly consists of nectar, which is drawn up after inserting their long curved bill into the corolla tube of the flower.  If there is no tube, the bill is used to pierce the base of the flower.  During this feeding pollen sticks to the bill and tongue and is transported to the next flower, allowing the bird to perform its pollinating function without any effort.  These sunbirds don’t only rely on nectar for their nourishment, but also eat small invertebrates like beetles, insects, spiders and larvae.

Southern double-coloured sunbird

Breeding pairs are monogamous and quite territorial during the breeding season.  The female lays between one and three eggs that she incubates over a period of thirteen to sixteen days.  The eggs are oval and vary enormously in colour.  Nests are occasionally parasitised by Klaas’s Cuckoo, which, as you can imagine, must have these little sunbirds worn out finding food for their ever-hungry and much larger adoptees!

Southern double-coloured sunbird

The flowers at Kirstenbosch certainly provide a beautiful backdrop for enjoying these happy little birds.  Next time I’ll blog about the waxbills that we saw in the same area.