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Orange-breasted sunbird

The orange-breasted sunbird (Anthobaphes violacea) is the only member of the bird genus Anthobaphes; however, it is sometimes placed in the genus Nectarinia. This sunbird is endemic to the fynbos habitat of southwestern South Africa. They are sexually dimorphic with females being olive green while the males are orange to yellow on the underside with bright green, blue and purple on the head and neck.

Orange-breasted sunbird
SunBird capetown.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Nectariniidae
Genus: Anthobaphes
Cabanis, 1850
A. violacea
Binomial name
Anthobaphes violacea
(Linnaeus, 1766)
  • Certhia violacea Linnaeus, 1766
  • Nectarinia violacea (Linnaeus, 1766)


In 1760 the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of the orange-breasted sunbird in his Ornithologie based on a specimen collected from the Cape of Good Hope. He used the French name Le petit grimpereau a longue queue du Cap de Bonne Espérance and the Latin Certhia Longicauda Minor Capitis Bonae Spei.[2] Although Brisson coined Latin names, these do not conform to the binomial system and are not recognised by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature.[3] When in 1766 the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his Systema Naturae for the twelfth edition, he added 240 species that had been previously described by Brisson.[3] One of these was the orange-breasted sunbird. Linnaeus included a brief description, coined the binomial name Certhia violacea and cited Brisson's work.[4] This species is now the only member of the genus Anthobaphes that was introduced by the German ornithologists Jean Cabanis in 1850.[5] The name is from the Ancient Greek anthobaphēs "bright-coloured" derived from ανθος anthos for flower and βαφη baphē for dyeing.[6]


As with other sunbirds the bill is long and decurved, that of the male being longer than that of the female. The bill, legs and feet are black. The eye is dark brown. The head, throat and mantle of the male are bright metallic green. The rest of the upper parts are olive green. The upper breast is metallic violet and the lower breast is bright orange, fading to paler orange and yellow on the belly. The tail is long and blackish, with elongated central tail feathers, which extend beyond the other feathers. The female has olive-greenish grey upperparts and olive yellowish underparts, paler on the belly. The wings and tail are blackish. The juvenile resembles the female.[7]

The call is a twangy, weak ssharaynk or sskrang, often repeated several times.[7]

Distribution and habitatEdit

Due to its restricted range within the fynbos biome of South Africa's Western Cape, this sunbird is associated with Ericas and proteas. It breeds when the heath flowers, typically in May. The male defends its territory aggressively, attacking and chasing intruders.

This tame species is a common breeder across its limited range, and is an altitudinal migrant, moving to higher altitudes during the southern summer in search of flowers. It is gregarious when not breeding, forming flocks of up to 100 birds.[7][8]


Female collecting leaf hairs to line nest


The orange-breasted sunbird breeds from February to November (Mainly in May - August) The nest built mainly by the female is an oval of rootlets, fine leafy twigs and grass, bound together with spider webs and lined with brown protea fluff. It has a side top entrance, but does not have a covered porch.[7][8] The usual clutch is two eggs and the female alone incubates. The eggs hatch in about 14.5 days and both parents feed the young. The young birds are mostly fed with insect and spider prey.[9]

Food and feedingEdit

The orange-breasted sunbird subsists on flower nectar, predominantly from ericas and proteas, although it will make use of other types of flowering plants as well. It will also take small insects and spiders, often in flight.[8]


Orange-breasted sunbirds are known to pollinate Protea, Leucospermum, and Erica species,[10][11] the flowers of which they visit for nectar.[12] They perch on the ground to visit the low flowers of Hyobanche sanguinea and Lachenalia luteola.[13] They also indulge in nectar theft from flowers with longer corolla tubes such as Chasmanthe floribunda.[14] Being fire-prone, the fynbos habitat ensures a great amount of mobility of the birds which may have contributed to a greater level of individual genetic variability despite having a rather limited distribution range.[15]

A number of plasmodia-like blood parasites are known from the orange-breasted sunbirds.[16]

Conservation statusEdit

This species is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. It may however be adversely affected by urbanisation, habitat conversion to agriculture, and fynbos fires.[1]


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Nectarinia violacea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  2. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Volume 3. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. pp. 649–651, Plate 33 fig 6. The two stars (**) at the start of the section indicates that Brisson based his description on the examination of a specimen.
  3. ^ a b Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335.
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1766). Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1, Part 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 188.
  5. ^ Cabanis, Jean; Heine, Ferdinand (1850). Museum Heineanum : Verzeichniss der ornithologischen Sammlung des Oberamtmann Ferdinand Heine, auf Gut St. Burchard vor Halberstadt (in German and Latin). Volume 1. Halbertstadt: R. Frantz. p. 103.
  6. ^ Jobling, J.A. (2018). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Key to Scientific Names in Ornithology". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Sinclair, Ian; Hockey, Phil; Tarboton, Warwick; Ryan, Peter (2011). Sasol Birds of Southern Africa: The Region's Most Comprehensively Illustrated Guide. Struik.
  8. ^ a b c "Orange-breasted sunbird - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds" (PDF).
  9. ^ Broekhuysen, G. J. (1963). "The breeding biology of the orange-breasted sunbird Anthobaphes violacea (Linnaeus)". Ostrich. 34 (4): 187–234. doi:10.1080/00306525.1963.9633478. ISSN 0030-6525.
  10. ^ Coetzee, A.; Seymour, C.L.; Spottiswoode, C.N. (2018). "Investigating the origins of flower colour polymorphisms in sunbird-pollinated Erica (Ericaceae)". South African Journal of Botany. 115: 282–283. doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2018.02.029. ISSN 0254-6299.
  11. ^ Johnson, Christopher Michael; He, Tianhua; Pauw, Anton (2014-05-15). "Floral divergence in closely related Leucospermum tottum (Proteaceae) varieties pollinated by birds and long-proboscid flies". Evolutionary Ecology. 28 (5): 849–868. doi:10.1007/s10682-014-9712-0. ISSN 0269-7653.
  12. ^ Zoeller, K. C.; Steenhuisen, S.-L.; Johnson, S. D.; Midgley, J. J. (2016-03-15). "New evidence for mammal pollination of Protea species (Proteaceae) based on remote-camera analysis". Australian Journal of Botany. 64 (1): 1. doi:10.1071/BT15111. ISSN 1444-9862.
  13. ^ Turner, R.C.; Midgley, J.J. (2016). "Sunbird-pollination in the geoflorous species Hyobanche sanguinea (Orobanchaceae) and Lachenalia luteola (Hyacinthaceae)". South African Journal of Botany. 102: 186–189. doi:10.1016/j.sajb.2015.07.004. ISSN 0254-6299.
  14. ^ Geerts, S. (2016-06-08). "Can short-billed nectar thieving sunbirds replace long-billed sunbird pollinators in transformed landscapes?". Plant Biology. 18 (6): 1048–1052. doi:10.1111/plb.12474. ISSN 1435-8603. PMID 27219484.
  15. ^ Chan, Chi-hang; Vuuren, Bettine Jansen van; Cherry, Michael I. (2011-04-01). "Fynbos fires may contribute to the maintenance of high genetic diversity in orange-breasted sunbirds (Anthobaphes violacea) : research article". South African Journal of Wildlife Research. 41 (1). hdl:10520/EJC117359. ISSN 2410-7220.
  16. ^ Lauron, Elvin J.; Loiseau, Claire; Bowie, Rauri C. K.; Spicer, Greg S.; Smit, Thomas B.; Melo, Martim; Sehgal, Ravinder N. M. (2014). "Coevolutionary patterns and diversification of avian malaria parasites in African sunbirds (Family Nectariniidae)" (PDF). Parasitology. 142 (5): 635–647. doi:10.1017/s0031182014001681. ISSN 0031-1820. PMID 25352083.