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Copper-throated
Sunbird
Nectarina calcostetha

Kelicap Bakau (Malay)

male copperthroated sunbirdThe Copper-throated Sunbird is found mainly in mangroves, but also coconut groves and coastal scrub. Singapore and in fact Sungei Buloh Nature Park, is said to be one of the few places where there is good chance of seeing this bird!

Sunbirds eat insects but are best known for sipping on nectar. They have a typical long, slender, decurved bill with fine serration along the margins of both mandibles. Their tongue is tubular and deeply cleft.

Although it is said that they cannot hover like a hummingbird (which is found only in tropical Americas), the sunbird can hover briefly. But they do prefer to cling to a nearby stem or vegetation as they sip on nectar. They may "steal" the nectar by piercing through the base of the flower (thus avoiding payment of pollinating services in exchange for the nectar reward).
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Large for a sunbird (14cm), bill thin and obviously decurved; appears all black in poor light.


Male feeding young
Photo from
Sungei Buloh Guidesheet
Male: In good light, green cap; copper throat and upper breast; dark purple lower breast and belly. Upperparts metallic green, tail blackish.

Female: Looks like other sunbird females but has a greyish head. Upperparts dark olive; throat and under tail coverts greyish; breast and belly greenish yellow; tail black with bold white tips.

Juvenile: As in female but tail is brown.

Call: Described as a rapid twitter similar to Crimson Sunbird but lower; also a long very high-pitched trill.

In flight: Darting flight.

Status in Singapore: Uncommon resident throughout the island, including North offshore islands.

World distribution: Southeast Asia.

Classification: Family Nectarinidae (Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds, Spiderhunters). World 169 species, Singapore 13 species.
blurry photo of male showing colourful throatLike other Sunbirds, the Copper-throated male is more colourful than the female. In fact, females of most species of Sunbirds look very similar. The Copper-throated male has two bright yellow tufts on his sides, best seen when his wings are open. Males are particularly territorial and may defend a good feeding site from other Sunbirds.

Breeding: Sunbirds form monogamous pairs. The Copper-throated Sunbirds breed in April-August.

The female builds the nest, while the male escorts her as she finds and collects nesting materials. She uses fine twigs and leaves to construct a pear-shaped nest with an entrance hole at the top. The nest is usually built in a mangrove tree, 2-6 ft above the ground facing water (a pond or the sea).

The eggs are pale brown with fine markings forming a band around the larger end. Both parents raise the young.

Status and threats: In Singapore, the Copper-throated is considered rare. While it is not yet on the endangered list, it may may end up there because it is dependent on mangrove habitats which are fast disappearing in Singapore.


Nests I have seen at Sungei Buloh, from
the path on Route 1
nest of copperthroated sunbird
This one was about
5m up in a tree


This one was only half
a metre or so above
the ground!
REFERENCES
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Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 353: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Ramakrishnan RK, "Journal of a Nature Warden: Copper-throated Sunbird's Nesting Habitat", Wetlands Vol 5 No 2, August 1998, a Sungei Buloh publication (p 3: nesting habits).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 116: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 139: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 130: habit, habitat of sunbirds in general).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 17: status in Singapore).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 200: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, " Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 215-217: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 201: description, habits, habitat).
  • Dr. Harold G Cogger (et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Honeyeaters and their allies by Terence Lindsey, 1993 (p. 427: general habits and habitats)
 
By Ria Tan, 2001