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Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Cycle

  • Diurnal (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Active, mobile, conspicuous (Fry et al. 2000)
  • Search for plants in bloom within their territories (Elphick 2014)
  • Regularly preen [sunbird, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Some sunbirds bathe in birdbaths [sunbird, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • May sleep for most of the night, similar to other sunbirds (Wellmann and Downs 2009)

Movements

Fry et al. 2000; Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008; Borrow and Demey 2014; Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014; Elphick 2014

  • Largely resident, esp. in mid-latitudes
  • Seasonal movements: often with rains to breed or in response to food supply
    • North with rains (March-April)
    • South in dry season (September-October)
  • Nomadic movements or altitudinal shifts in search of flowers
    • Mistletoes (e.g., Tapinanthus globiferus Loranthaceae)
  • In the Sahelian north, subpopulations may be present in dry season
    • Migrate at onset of rains to breed
  • Distances traveled by migrating C. pulchellus not reported
    • Only migrate within Africa
    • Few details available for many sunbirds

Territorial Behavior

Guarding breeding territory

Guarding food

  • Chase intruders away from flowers in their territory (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Some sunbirds aggressively defend nectar resources from competitors, such as bees [sunbirds, Cinnyris and Nectarinia spp.] (Ollerton and Nuttman 2013; Tropek et al. 2013)
    • Potential to affect movements of insect pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths) (Ollerton and Nuttman 2013)

Social Groups

  • Occur singly or more commonly in pairs (Fry et al. 2000; Borrow and Demey 2014; Elphick 2014)
  • Small aggregations at feeding sites (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Also small flocks, generally near water (Mackworth-Praed and Grant 1973; Borrow and Demey 2014)

Social Interactions

  • Vocalize to others in their social group (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Chase one another around food resources (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • However, little evidence of resource-partitioning among species (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Maximum group size not known

Communication

Vocalizations (Cheke and Mann 2008)

  • Range of vocalizations
  • Functions
    • Communicate with conspecifics
    • Announce arrival at foraging sites
    • Defend territories
    • Advertise to mates
    • Communicate with offspring
  • Sunbirds in the genus Cinnyris have complex songs compared to other sunbirds' simple ones
  • Males mainly sing, but females also sometimes sing [sunbirds, general]

Calls

  • Vigorous or repeated
    • Chip, tut (Sinclair and Ryan 2010; Borrow and Demey 2014)
    • Zit-zit, chip-chip, tsi-chip, or tsick-tsick when feeding (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Je-je-je (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Female call is a one or two syllable note (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Distinct from male call
  • Other calls (Fry et al. 2000; Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Contact calls by and to chicks (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • More audio samples: Call 1

Songs

  • Subdued warble (Mackworth-Praed and Grant 1973; Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Variable, high-pitched, jumbled song (Sinclair and Ryan 2010; Borrow and Demey 2014)
  • Rapid introductory series of short, similar notes followed by short, high-pitched jingle (e.g., chiupchupchipchitititit) or musical warble (Stevenson and Fanshawe 2002; Sinclair and Ryan 2010; Borrow and Demey 2014)
  • Dry, unmusical notes with cyclical quality (Fry et al. 2000)
  • C. p. melanogastrus (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • C. p. pulchellus (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Rising and falling warble of ti-tsu-tswee or similar, lasting nearly one minute
    • Sometimes includes rising series of 3-4 tsi
    • May also include rapid che and bursts of chip-chip
  • Audio samples of songs: Song 1, Song 2, Song 3, Song 4

Interspecies Interactions

  • Observed interacting with other sunbird species (Williams 1955; Fry et al. 2000)
  • Sunbirds may join other birds to mob potential predators [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Some sunbirds aggressively defend nectar resources from competitors, such as bees [sunbirds, Cinnyris and Nectarinia spp.] (Ollerton and Nuttman 2013; Tropek et al. 2013)
    • Potential to affect movements of insect pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths) (Ollerton and Nuttman 2013)

Locomotion

Flight (Elphick 2014)

  • Direct, dashing flight
  • Acrobatic, similar to New World hummingbirds

Other Behaviors

Uncommon behaviors

Complex Songs

Beautiful Sunbird singing

An adult male Beautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus, singing.

Image credit: © Mark Piazzi at Flickr. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Image details: Taken 06 June 2011 in Ethiopia.

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