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Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus) Fact Sheet, 2016   Tags: africa, bird, fact sheets, iridescent, nectar, plumage, san diego zoo, sdzg, sunbird, zoos  

Last Updated: Jan 27, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus) Fact Sheet, 2016

 Beautiful Sunbird on Branch

Adult male Beautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus, in iridescent breeding plumage.

Image credit: © Paul Cools at Internet Bird Collection and PBase. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

TaxonomyPhysical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Nectariniidae

Genus: Cinnyris

Species: Cinnyris pulchellus - Beautiful Sunbird

Subspecies: C. p. pulchellus (nominate race)
Subspecies: C. p. melanogastrus

Wing length
Male, C. p. pulchellus: 56-61 mm (2.2-2.4 in)
Female, C. p. pulchellus: 47-56 mm (1.9-2.2 in)
Male, C. p. melanogastrus: 55-65 mm (2.1-2.6 in)
Female, C. p. melanogastrus: 52 mm** (2.0 in)

Tail with elongations
Male, C. p. pulchellus: 74-131 mm (2.9-5.2 in)
Female, C. p. pulchellus: 33-41 mm (1.3-1.6 in)

Tail without elongations
Male, C. p. pulchellus: 39-44 mm (1.5-1.7 in)
Female, C. p. pulchellus: 34-37 mm (1.3-1.5 in)

Male, C. p. pulchellus: 15-19 mm (0.6-0.7 in)
Female, C. p. pulchellus: 14-18 mm (0.6-0.7 in)
Male, C. p. melanogastrus: 21-22 mm** (0.8-0.9 in)
Female, C. p. melanogastrus: 20 mm** (0.8 in)

Male, C. p. pulchellus: 5.6-10.2 g (0.2-0.4 oz)
Female, C. p. pulchellus: 5.6-8.0 g (0.2-0.3 oz)
Male, C. p. melanogastrus: 7.0-9.5 g (0.2-0.3 oz)
Female, C. p. melanogastrus: 7.1-9.7 g** (~0.3 oz)

** Sample size ≤ 3 individuals

Distribution & StatusBehavior & Ecology

West and East Africa

Savannas, semi-arid or dry forest, wooded grasslands, riparian systems, villages and gardens. Less commonly, mangrove scrub and beaches.

IUCN Status
Least Concern, ver. 3.1

CITES Appendix
Not listed

Populations in Wild
Thought to be common and widespread throughout its range, where suitable habitat exists. Thought to adapt well to habitat changes; uses human-altered habitats, such as gardens.

Direct, dashing flight; acrobatic. Also perch, hover, and hang upside down.

Activity Cycle
Diurnal. Active and conspicuous. Search for plants in bloom most of the day.

Largely resident. Move seasonally with changes in rainfall and food supply.

Social Groups
Occur singly or in pairs. Small aggregations near food or water.

Nectar, insects, spiders, and fleshy parts of fruits and berries. Visit flowers of more than 20 different plant genera.

Larger birds. Eggs eaten by snakes.

Reproduction & DevelopmentSpecies Highlights

Courtship: Males defend territories. Elaborate displays to females. May chase until he has the female's attention. Then sings, spreads his wings, and flicks his tail.

Clutch Size: 1-2 eggs

Nest: Suspended from tree branches. Purse-shaped. Made of bark, twigs, dried grass, leaves, feathers, etc. Tightly bound with spiders' webs. Lined with feathers or vegetable down. Only female builds nest.

Hatchlings: Only female broods. Fed by female and male. Likely eat insects and spiders.

Fledging period: up to 14-18 days; fledglings fed for up to another two weeks

Longevity: unreported


Featured Facts

  • Tubular tongue with a split, fringed tip; sucks nectar from flowers
  • Iridescent green and blue plumage in breeding males
  • Complex songs
  • Nest may have dangling 'beard' for camouflage
  • Eggs of diverse colors and markings
  • Parents feed spiders to chicks
  • Often seen at water sources in people's gardens (e.g., garden hoses, sprinklers)
  • Affinity for mistletoe plants
  • Has similar characteristics and lifestyle to New World hummingbirds, but is only a distant relative
  • Challenging to maintain in captivity; rare in zoos

About This Fact Sheet

© 2016 San Diego Zoo Global

How to cite: Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus) Fact Sheet, 2016. c2016. San Diego (California, USA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd].
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

Note about citations used in this fact sheet: Because few scientific studies have been conducted on Beautiful Sunbirds, some information in this fact sheet relates to sunbirds more generally. These facts are noted:

  • In the body text (e.g., "Some sunbirds aggressively defend nectar...")
  • With an in-text citation and literature source (e.g., "[sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)")
  • With an in-text citation stating the species' common name (or genera) and literature source (e.g., [White-bellied Sunbird] (Purchase et al. 2013)


Many thanks to Robert A. Cheke, PhD, for providing expert content review of this fact sheet. Dr. Cheke is one of the world’s foremost sunbird experts. His work frequently takes him to sub-Saharan Africa, where he is able to follow his interest in sunbirds—a passion first ignited when he first visited Africa as a young student.

Notably, his research more broadly encompasses connections between ornithology, entomology, health, and climate. As Professor of Tropical Zoology and Principal Scientist at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich (United Kingdom), Dr. Cheke studies the biology and control of vector-borne diseases and agricultural pests.

He has authored 250 scientific papers and two books, notably the authoritative natural history guide Sunbirds: a Guide to the Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters and Sugarbirds of the World, for which he is now preparing a second edition with his co-author Dr. Clive Mann and illustrator Richard Allen.

Also, thank you to Dave Rimlinger and Athena Wilson for sharing their knowledge of sunbird husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Mr. Rimlinger, Curator of Birds, oversees husbandry for Beautiful Sunbirds and a staggering number of other bird species at the San Diego Zoo. He is also deeply involved with the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center, an off-exhibit facility for hatching and raising endangered and delicate birds.

Ms. Wilson, a bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo, has spent a great deal of time caring for Beautiful Sunbirds and developing best husbandry practices for the Zoo. She created a Captive Breeding Review for Beautiful Sunbirds in 2011.

Finally, to the many artists who granted permission to use their images—thank you for furthering the visual and educational quality of this fact sheet.


A Sunbird of a Different Color

Beautiful Sunbird in Non-breeding Plumage

Adult male Beautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus, in non-breeding plumage.

The coloration of the Beautiful Sunbird varies widely, even between sexes and age classes. See Plumage.

Image credit: © Lip Kee at Flickr. Some rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Image details: Taken 02 September 2012 in Tanzania.

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