Olive-backed Sunbird

by Low, Eunice

The olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) is one of Singapore’s resident birds.1 In 2002, it was one of five birds shortlisted by the Nature Society (Singapore) in an unofficial campaign to select Singapore’s national bird.2

The olive-backed sunbird is featured in the Bird Series S$20 currency notes released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore between 1976 and 1984, as well as in the Bird Series Cashcards launched by Singapore Mint in 2001 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the currency notes.3 It also appears on the S$2 stamp of the 1962 postage stamp series which depicts local flora and fauna.4

Description
The olive-backed sunbird belongs to the Nectariniidae or Sunbird family.5 Members of this family, with their metallic plumages and slender decurved bills, superficially resemble the hummingbirds of Central and South America,6 especially since they are also able to hover when collecting food.7 Male olive-backed sunbirds have a distinctive, iridescent bluish-black forehead, throat and upper breast, and bright yellow underparts.8 The females have an olive-green plumage on their upperparts and completely yellow underparts.9 Juveniles are similar to the females in colour, the olive-green colouration of their upperparts offering camouflage during this vulnerable stage of their lives.10 Adults are about 11 cm in length.11 Its call is a high-pitched metallic chirp, “cheep, cheep, wheet”, or a high-pitched rising “chee”.12

Reproduction
The nest of this species, as with other members of the sunbird family, can be best described as an upside-down pear with a pendulous stalk.13 It is often hung on a twig or branch or even unused man-made objects such as a telephone wire or cord,14 and even hanging laundry in Singapore’s urban setting.15 The female collects nesting material and builds the nest, while the male will be around nearby, calling or singing.16 The nest is built using materials such as dead leaves, moss, spiders’ webs, lichens, seed cases and even caterpillar frass.17 The entrance to the nest is just above the middle of the structure, with a little projecting eave for the parent to perch and enter.18 Inside, the nest cavity is neatly and cosily lined with materials such as tree cotton or lalang down.19 They have been known to re-use the same nest up to seven times.20

Olive-backed sunbirds fly low among trees and bushes, making observing them easy.21 The locations of their nests in Singapore have been a source of surprise and entertainment to the amateur naturalist, as the olive-backed sunbird seems to like nesting in close proximity to humans.22 Articles and letters written to local media have mentioned these birds nesting in small, spindly plants located along the corridors and balconies of public flats and private apartments,23 as well as in trees close to windows of houses, and even in bedrooms of large houses.24 Plants where nests have been built include bougainvilleas and figs.25

Olive-backed sunbirds have been recorded to nest all year round, with multiple broods. A clutch of 1–3 mottled, greyish-white eggs are usually laid.26 The parents take turns to look after their young.27 

Diet
The olive-backed sunbird feeds mainly on nectar extracted from the base of blooms belonging to the CallistemonErythrinaRusseliahibiscus and canna with its curved beak,28 as well as small insects,29 including locustids, ants and spiders. It has also been observed stealing from spiders’ webs.30 It also likes to drink from and bathe in small pools of water that collect in plants such as bird’s nest ferns, alocasias, diffenbachia and anthuriums.31

As it feeds on nectar and small fruits, it also serves an ecological role as a pollinator of flowers and spreads seeds it has consumed.32

Distribution and habitat
This species is found across Southeast Asia and Australasia, from southern China and mainland Southeast Asia to Maluku, New Guinea and north Australia.33

This is one of the most common sunbirds in Singapore, where six other species of sunbirds have been recorded, all of which are resident.34 The olive-backed sunbird can be found in almost every habitat except denser forests, and is a frequent visitor to gardens, parks35 and coastal areas.36 It is very common and is encountered with at least 90 percent probability in its preferred habitats.37 It seems to have little fear of humans, as shown by its nesting behaviour.38

Variant names
English: Yellow-breasted sunbird39
Malay: Kelicap Biasa; Kĕlicap;40 Kelicap pantai41
Chinese: 黄腹花蜜鸟 (Huang fu hua mi niao)42 (“Yellow-bellied nectar bird”)



Author

Eunice Low

 

References
1. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 139. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25; Wells, D. R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula; Covering Burma and Thailand south of the eleventh parallel, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Vol. Two, PasserinesLondon: Christopher Helm, pp. 636–637. (Call no.: RSEA 598.0959 WEL)
2. Perry, M. (2002, May 27). Which should be the national bird? The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewpaperSG.
3. Board of Commissioners of Currency, Singapore (1994). Singapore Money BookSingapore: Moneyworld Asia, pp. 27, 31. (Call no.: RSING 769.5595957 SIN); Wee, Y. C., Tan, W. K., & Wang, L. K. (2011). One for the birds: Singapore stamps & money. Singapore: Tan Wee Kiat, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 769.5695957 WEE); Bird-series CashCards, new coin set launched. (2001, July 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Choo, K.H. (2016, Apr 26). Fun facts about the Olive-backed Sunbird. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
4. Birds and orchids on new Singapore stamps. (1963, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Postage Stamps Catalogue (3rd edition) (2011). Singapore: CS Philatelic Agency, p. 38. (Call no.: RSING 769.5695957 SPSC); Wee, Y. C., Tan, W. K., & Wang, L. K. (2011). One for the birds: Singapore stamps & money. Singapore: Tan Wee Kiat, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 769.5695957 WEE)
5. Gan, J. (2002). Some interesting notes on the Sunbirds. Wetlands9(3), 10–11. Singapore: Sungei Buloh, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP); Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia & Singapore: Including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo. Hong Kong: Periplus, p. 354. (Call no.: RSING 598.0959 STR)
6. Gan, J. (2002). Some interesting notes on the Sunbirds. Wetlands9(3), 10–11. Singapore: Sungei Buloh, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP)
7. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25
8. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM)
9. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE); Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM)
10. Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Guy, G. (2002, October–December). Sunbirds of Singapore – from old world jungle jewels to modern national symbols. Nature watch: Official magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore), 10(4), 2–9. Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), p. 5. Retrieved 2019, August 1 from Nature Society (Singapore) website: https://www.nss.org.sg/articles/3d0e9135-2Sunbirds.pdf
11. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM); Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia & Singapore: Including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo. Hong Kong: Periplus, p. 354. (Call no.: RSING 598.0959 STR)
12. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia & Singapore: Including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo. Hong Kong: Periplus, p. 354. (Call no.: RSING 598.0959 STR); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE); Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM)
13. Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE); Spittle, R. J. (1950, January). Nesting habits of some Singapore birds [Microfilm no.: NL 26236]. Bulletin of the Raffles Museum Singapore, Straits Settlements21, 184–204, p. 199. Singapore: Printed at the Government Printing Office; Guy, G. (2002, October–December). Sunbirds of Singapore – from old world jungle jewels to modern national symbols. Nature watch: Official magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore), 10(4), 2–9Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), p. 4. Retrieved 2019, August 1 from Nature Society (Singapore) website: https://www.nss.org.sg/articles/3d0e9135-2Sunbirds.pdf
14. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE)
15. Nest in knickers. (2012, March 23). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewpaperSG.
16. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25
17. Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE); Wee, Y. C., Tan, W. K., & Wang, L. K. (2011). One for the birds: Singapore stamps & money. Singapore: Tan Wee Kiat, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 769.5695957 WEE); Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI)
18. Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE)
19. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE)
20. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25;
21. Strange, M. (2000). A photographic guide to the birds of Malaysia & Singapore: Including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo. Hong Kong: Periplus, p. 354. (Call no.: RSING 598.0959 STR)
22. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH])
23. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Nest in knickers. (2012, March 23).The Straits Times, p. 8; Tan, A. (2005, April 30). It’s a bird perkThe Straits Times, p. 14; Tan, A. (2005, March 26). Watch the birdieThe Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, K. S. (1997). Birds: An illustrated field guide to the birds of Singapore. Singapore: Sun Tree Publishing, p. 117. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM)
24. Hails, C. J. (1987). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Times Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI)
25. Tan, A. (2005, April 30). It’s a bird perkThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE); Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25
27. Gan, J. (2002). Some interesting notes on the Sunbirds. Wetlands9(3), 10–11. Singapore: Sungei Buloh, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP); Wells, D. R. (2007). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula; covering Burma and Thailand south of the eleventh parallel, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Vol. Two, PasserinesLondon: Christopher Helm, pp. 636–637. (Call no.: RSEA 598.0959 WEL)
28. Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Guy, G. (2002, October–December). Sunbirds of Singapore – from old world jungle jewels to modern national symbols. Nature watch: Official magazine of the Nature Society (Singapore), 10(4), 2–9Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), p. 6. Retrieved 2019, August 1 from Nature Society (Singapore) website: https://www.nss.org.sg/articles/3d0e9135-2Sunbirds.pdf; Briffett, C. (1993). The birds of Singapore. Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 598.295757 BRI)
29. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Gan, J. (2002). Some interesting notes on the Sunbirds. Wetlands9(3), 10–11. Singapore: Sungei Buloh, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP)
30. Smythies, B. E. (1981). The birds of Borneo. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah; Kuala Lumpur: Sabah Society; Malayan Nature Society, p. 391. (Call no.: RSEA 598.295983 SMY); Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH])
31. Tan, A. (2005, April 30). It’s a bird perkThe Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. (2017). Cinnyris jugularis. Retrieved 2017, March 6 from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Musuem website: http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/dna/organisms/details/535/25
33. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON)
34. Gan, J. (2002). Some interesting notes on the Sunbirds. Wetlands9(3), 10–11. Singapore: Sungei Buloh, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 508.5957 SBNP)
35. Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Wee, Y. C., Tan, W. K., & Wang, L. K. (2011). One for the birds: Singapore stamps & money. Singapore: Tan Wee Kiat, p. 36. (Call no.: RSING 769.5695957 WEE)
36. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Hails, C. J. (2018). Birds of Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 148. (Call no.: RSING 598.295957 HAI); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE)
37. Lim, K. S. (2007). Pocket checklist of the birds of the Republic of Singapore (2nd ed.) [Extract]. Retrieved 2019, August 28 from Nature Society (Singapore) website: https://www.nss.org.sg/wildbirdsingapore/PocketChecklist2007.pdf; Lim, K. S. (1999). Pocket checklist of the birds of the Republic of Singapore. Singapore: Nature Society (Singapore), Bird Group Records Committee, p. 58. Available via PublicationSG; Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Briffett, C. (1993). The birds of Singapore. Kuala Lumpur; New York: Oxford University Press, p. 69. (Call no.: RSING 598.295757 BRI); Lim, K. S., & Chew, J. (2010). A field guide to the birds of SingaporeSingapore: Nature Society, p. 17. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 LIM)
38. Tan, A. (2005, March 26). Watch the birdieThe Straits Times, p. 10; Tan, A. (2005, April 30). It’s a bird perkThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Glenister, A. G. (1971). The birds of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore and Penang. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, p. 234. (Call no.: RSING 598.29595 GLE-[RFL])
39. Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH])
40. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON); Madoc, G. C. (1947). An introduction to Malayan birds. Kuala Lumpur: Malayan Nature, p. 207. (Call no.: RCLOS 598.29595 MAD-[GBH]); Tweedie, M. W. F. (1970). Common birds of the Malay Peninsula. Kuala Lumpur: Longman Malaysia, p. 57. (Call no.: RSEA 598.29595 TWE)
41. Wells, D. R. (2007). The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula; covering Burma and Thailand south of the eleventh parallel, Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. Vol. Two, PasserinesLondon: Christopher Helm, p. 634. (Call no.: RSEA 598.0959 WEL)
42. Yong, D. L., & Lim, K. C. (2016). A naturalist’s guide to the birds of Singapore. England: John Beaufoy Publishing, p. 150. (Call no.: RSING 598.095957 YON)


Further Resources
Robson, C. (2015). Birds of South-East Asia (2nd ed.). London, Christopher Helm, p. 420. (RSING 598.0959 ROB)



The information in this article is valid as at August 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Sunbirds--Singapore
Wildlife
Science and technology>>Zoology>>Birds
Birds on postage stamps
Nature>>Animals
Birds in numismatics