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Olive-backed Sunbird
Nectarina jugularis

Yellow-breasted Sunbird, Kelichap Bukit (Malay)

The Olive-backed Sunbird is very bold and often builds nests close to and even in human habitation (balconies, porches, corridors). Not surprisingly then, it is among the most common Sunbirds in this region.

Sunbirds survive mainly on nectar, although they may snack on the occasional insect. Their nectar extraction equipment include: a long, slender, decurved bill with fine serration along the margins of both mandibles; and a tubular, deeply cleft tongue. Males are particularly territorial and may defend a good feeding site from other Sunbirds.

Although it is said that they cannot hover like true hummingbirds (which are found only in tropical Americas), Sunbirds can hover briefly. But they do prefer to cling to a nearby stem or vegetation as they sip nectar. They may "steal" the nectar by piercing through the base of the flower than going through the front 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: The smallest Sunbird (11cm), bill thin and obviously decurved; distinctive white tips at outer tail feathers.

Male: Metallic blue-black forehead, throat and upper breast, contrasting with bright yellow underparts; upperparts dull olive brown.

Female: Upperparts dull olive brown; underparts all yellow, brighter yellow than other female Sunbirds.
male olive-backed sunbird
female olive-backed sunbird
Photos from
Morten Strange
Juvenile: Similar to females.

Call: Described as constant rough metallic chirps cheep-cheep-wheet; also a high-pitched rising chee.

In flight: Darting flight.

Status in Singapore: Very common resident throughout the island, including North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Southern China to the Philippines down to Australia.

Classification: Family Nectarinidae (Flowerpeckers, Sunbirds, Spiderhunters). World 169 species, Singapore 13 species.
They forage both at tree tops and among lower bushes.

Like other Sunbirds, the Olive-backed male is more colourful than the female. In fact, females of most species of Sunbirds look very similar.
Breeding: Sunbirds form monogamous pairs. The Olive-backed Sunbirds breed in April-August. They build a hanging flask-shaped nest with an overhanging porch at the entrance, and a trail of hanging material at the bottom end. Materials used include plant fibres, mosses, spider's web. The nest is lined with soft fluffy seeds (e.g., kapok, lallang grass seeds). The outside of the nest is often untidy and decorated with lichens, dead leaves and seed cases. They usually nest low in bushes and trees, but also close to humans and even in high-rise buildings! 2 greenish-blue eggs with dark brown spots and lines are laid. Males usually don't help in incubation, but may help out in raising the young.
olive backed sunbird at its nest (seeking permission to use)
Photo from
Clive Briffett

Status and threats:
Olive-backed Sunbirds are not at risk. Highly adaptable, they are the most common Sunbird in Singapore and are found almost everywhere except the deepest forest. Originally from from mangroves, they have spread to forest margins and secondary growths, to cultivated areas (parks, gardens) and even urban areas.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 354: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 60-61: habits, habitat, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 117: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 123: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 61: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Clive Briffett, "A Guide to the Common Birds of Singapore", BP Science Centre,1992 (p. 132: habit, habitat).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 148: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • 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, drawings).
  • 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