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Beautiful Sunbird (Cinnyris pulchellus) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Courtship

Displays (Cheke and Mann 2008)

  • Elaborate displays by males to females
  • Male sings
  • May chase female until she perches [sunbirds, general]
  • When male has female’s attention, spreads his wings and raises tail
  • Sings and flicks his wings
  • May also use elongated tail feathers in displaying [observed in similar Malachite sunbird] (Evans 2003)
    • Females may use to assess quality of potential mates
  • Female may quiver her wings [sunbirds, general]

Territoriality

  • Males defend territories during the breeding season (Fry et al. 2000; Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Display and sing from prominent, exposed perches (tops of trees or bushes) (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • High vantage point; allows territory holder to survey his domain
    • Also alerts intruders that the territory already has an owner
  • Show colors of underparts, arching back and lifting wings (“upright pose”) (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Flick wings up, fanning tail, and switching tail from side-to-side (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Chase away rivals (Cheke and Mann 2008)

Reproduction

Breeding

  • Breed during rainy/wet season (Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Insects available to feed to their chicks
  • Laying dates
    • Generally June-October, though some pockets breed in winter months (Fry et al. 2000)
    • Timing of egg laying varies by location (see Cheke and Mann 2008, p. 283)
    • Country-by-country reports given in Cheke et al. (2001)
  • Males territorial
  • Polygamy suspected, as a male may court two females at once (Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Possibly monogamous
  • Biparental care, but female has main responsibility of raising young (Cheke and Mann 2008; Winkler et al. 2015)
    • Female: builds nest, incubates eggs, broods young, and feeds chicks
    • Male: attends nest and feeds chicks
  • Number of broods per year: not reported
  • Duration of breeding cycle: not reported

Nest

  • Constructed solely by female [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008; Winkler et al. 2015)
  • Suspended from tree branches (Fry et al. 2000; Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Placed low in trees or shrubs, 1-6 m (3.3-19.7 ft) above the ground
    • Jubube, acacia, Citrus (lime or orange), Bauhinia reticulata, and tamarind trees
  • Nests built in exposed positions [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Vulnerable to predators or nest parasites
    • Need to be well-concealed
  • Compact (Mackworth-Praed and Grant 1973)
  • Purse-shaped with a central entrance (Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Made of various fibers (Mackworth-Praed and Grant 1973; Fry et al. 2000; Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Bark, twigs, dried grass, leaves, vegetable down, plant stems, feathers, and snakeskin
    • Tightly bound with spiders’ webs, especially at entrance and attachment
    • Lined with feathers or vegetable down
    • Sometimes small amounts of human-made materials, such as paper and light-weight plastic, present [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Sometimes decorated with lichen (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Porch and beard
    • Some nests have a “porch” or trailing “beard” of vegetation hanging underneath (not common) (Cheke et al. 2001; Winkler et al. 2015)
    • Aid in concealment, when present (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Porch provides shade from sun and shelter from rain (Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Dimensions (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Height: 120 mm
    • Width: 50 mm
    • Internal depth: 35 mm
    • Entrance hole in center: 25 mm diameter
    • Hanging attachment, sometimes present: 35 mm
  • Nests of C. p. melanogastrus (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Hang from tip of branches, approximately 0.3 m long
    • 1 m (3.3 ft) up in Acacia mellifera
    • Made of dry leaves and vegetable matter
    • Woven with cobwebs
    • Beard
    • Lined with feathers

Eggs

  • Clutch size: 1-2 eggs (Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
  • Shape: long, ovate (Fry et al. 2000)
  • Shell: thin, fragile (Fry et al. 2000)
  • Eggs of C. p. pulchellus (Fry et al. 2000; Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Color and markings highly variable
    • Ground color: usually pale bluish-grey, green, brown, or grayish-white
    • Markings: dark grey, brown, or ashy longitudinal streaks, blotches and spots
    • Sometimes tinged olive and marked with dark sepia, or so heavily marked that eggs appear uniformly grey
    • Sometimes slightly glossy
    • 15.1-18.0 mm x 9.9-12.4 mm
  • Eggs of C. p. melanogastrus (taken from Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Ground color: soft-toned bright green
    • Markings: violet-grey spots and clouds more towards the pointed end; S-shaped flourishes and spots more towards the blunt end
    • 16.0-17.0 mm x 11.0-12.0 mm

Parental Care

Incubation and brooding

  • Only females incubate and brood (Cheke and Mann 2008; Winkler et al. 2015)
  • Incubation: 14-15 days (Winkler et al. 2015)
  • May limit incubation during the day to prevent embryos from overheating (Koenig 1956; Drent 1970)

Food provisioning to chicks

  • Both male and female feed young (Winkler et al. 2015)
  • Relative female-to-male effort not reported for C. pulchellus [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Before fledging: Females may put in most labor; not reported if males assist
    • After fledging: Males may bring more food, as in other sunbird species

Protecting young

  • Attack and deter predators [sunbirds, general] (Markman et al. 1996; Cheke and Mann 2008)

Nest maintenance

  • Remove fecal sacs from nest [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Keeps nest clean
    • Reduces risk of detection by predators

Life Stages

Nestlings

  • Physical description
  • Diet
    • Not reported for C. pulchellus
    • Likely insects and spiders, as for other sunbird chicks [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)
      • Eat spiders in managed care (Dave Rimlinger, personal communication)

Fledglings

  • Fledging period: up to 14-18 days (Elphick 2014)
  • Fledglings leave nest after 2-3 weeks (Winkler et al. 2015)
  • Diet
    • Not reported in literature for C. pulchellus
    • Likely insects and spiders, as for other sunbirds [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)

After fledging: transitioning to adulthood [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008)

  • Fledglings gradually venture farther from the nest
  • Independent after a few weeks
  • Parents continue to feed for up to two weeks after fledging
    • Fledglings often fed away from the nest site
  • Young remain in natal area until leaving parents’ territory

Longevity

In the wild

  • Unknown for C. pulchellus
  • Some sunbirds may have surprisingly long lifespans [sunbirds, general] (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Amethyst Sunbird, Chalcomitra amethystina: at least 16 years
    • Western Olive Sunbird, Cyanomitra olivacea obscura: 14 years, 5 months
    • Seychelles Sunbird, Cinnyris dussumieri: at least 13 years
    • Bronzy Sunbird, Nectarinia kilimensis: 12 years, 6 months
    • Brown-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes malacensis: 12 years
  • Other sunbirds have shorter lifespans: 2-8 years (Zilberman et al. 2001; Evans 2003)
    • May be affected by body size and ability to obtain territory, and thus, access to food resources (in males)

In managed care

  • Unknown for C. pulchellus
  • Purple Sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus), male (Flower 1938)
    • Lived for 22 years

Mortality

Survival rates

  • Few studies on sunbird longevity or survival rates
  • High survival rates in some sunbird species, compared to other tropical birds (Evans 2003)
    • Orange-tufted Sunbird/Palestine Sunbird: 63% (Zilberman et al. 2001)
    • Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia johnstoni: 72% (high altitude East African mountains)

Egg and nestling mortality [sunbirds, general] (Cheke and Mann 2008, except as noted)

  • Egg stage (causes described for Palestine Sunbird by Cheke and Mann 2008, except as noted]
    • Infertility
    • Insufficient nutrition available to embryos (Eising et al. 2009)
    • Desertion
    • Egg shell breakage and embryonic death
    • Adverse weather damages nest (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Predation of eggs
      • Snakes (Cheke et al. 2001)
      • Larger birds (Markman et al. 1996)
  • Nestling stage
    • Brood parasites
      • Not yet reported for C. pulchellus
      • In other sunbird species
        • Cuckoos, Cuculidae
        • Honeyguides, Indicatoridae
    • Infanticide by other males looking to claim territory (Markman et al. 1996; Cheke and Mann 2008)
    • Starvation (Cheke et al. 2001; Cheke and Mann 2008)
      • Parents die
      • Parents cannot find enough food

Fledgling and adult mortality [sunbirds, general]

  • Fledgling stage
    • Predators
      • Birds of prey (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Accidental death
      • Becoming tangled in spiders’ webs (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Adult stage
    • Predators
      • Birds of prey (Cheke et al. 2001)
    • Competition for food (feeding territories)
      • Access to foraging sites aggressively defended by conspecifics and other animals (Akinpelu 1989; Evans 2003; Tropek et al. 2013)

Parasites (non-comprehensive list)

  • Blood parasites, e.g., Haemoproteus, Plasmodium, and Leucocytozoon (Cheke et al. 2001; Chasar et al. 2009; Lauron et al. 2015) [Beautiful Sunbird and sunbirds, general]
  • Nematode worms (Yeh 1954)
  • Feather lice, Ricinus timmermanni (Cheke et al. 2001)
  • Mites found in nostrils of some sunbirds [e.g., Copper Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird] (Fain and Mariaux 1991; Kaluz et al. 2011)
    • Also, hummingbirds (Kaluz et al. 2011)

Diseases (non-comprehensive list)

  • Fungal infections in managed care
  • Candidiasis (Peaker 1990)

Courtship Displays

Male Beautiful Sunbird courtship display

Courtship display by a male Beautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus.

This male began displaying when a female landed on a nearby branch. Often referred to as an "upright pose."

Image credit: © Frans Vandewalle/Snarfel at Flickr and The Internet Bird Collection. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Image details: Taken 23 November 2013 in Gambia.

Woven Together

Female Beautiful Sunbird builds a nest

A female Beautiful Sunbird, Cinnyris pulchellus, builds a nest in an Acacia tree.

Image credit: © John Wright at Wrights Wanderings. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Image details: Taken 28 February 2013 in Gambia.

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