Monday, May 17, 2010

Meet the Olive-Backed Sunbird

     It comes as a surprise to many people that there are no hummingbirds in the Philippines. A lot of people have seen a small, brilliantly colored bird darting in and out of the flowers in their gardens. They assume this is a hummingbird. The bird they’ve seen is actually an Olive Backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis).
male Olive-Backed Sunbird on Tabebuia flowers, photo by Tonji Ramos 

     Like hummingbirds, Olive-backed Sunbirds feed on nectar and small insects and spiders. They can be found in gardens all over Ayala Alabang. They have a long, thin, pointed beak that curves downwards. This type of downward curving beak is described as “decurved”. When they feed on nectar, they either thrust their entire beak into the center of the flower or they use their sharp beaks to pierce a flower near its base and sip the nectar. They have long, thin, tubular tongues that they use to sip the nectar. Unlike hummingbirds that can hover like tiny helicopters, Olive-backed Sunbirds can only hover for brief spurts. They are very agile and fly quickly from flower to flower. They can also snap up insects while perched on treetops.
female piercing an African Tulip tree flower
      Olive-backed Sunbirds are often found in pairs, especially during breeding season. The male and female are easily told apart because the male is more colorful and showy than the female. The male has a shiny, iridescent, metallic purplish-blue throat and upper breast while the female’s throat and upper breast are yellow. Both male and female have olive colored backs and heads, brown and olive wings, and yellow stomachs. The male Olive-backed Sunbirds found Palawan however are colored bright orange below the chest.
metallic throat and chest feathers of the male Olive-Backed Sunbird

     Sunbirds are known in Pilipino as pipit. There are many kinds of sunbirds and the Olive-backed Sunbird is known as pipit- parang or pipit-puso. They are noisy and active throughout the day. Their call is a loud and persistent “tch-wiiiip” and also an insistent, high-pitched, repeated  “chii-chii-chii-chii-chii”. Often, they will perch on the top of a tree calling out “Tch-wiiiip” loudly.

      At home, I see the Olive-backed Sunbirds from my 2nd floor windows feeding on the pale pink flowers of the Tabebuia trees and the bright orange flowers of the African Tulip trees. One of my neighbors attracted a lot of Olive-backed Sunbirds to her garden by planting a lot of Chinese Hat plants. I have also seen them on hibiscus (gumamela) flowers and Cassia trees. They seem to be attracted to all kinds of nectar-rich flowers. It’s pleasing to find that the plants and flowers that bring shade and beauty to the garden also provide food and shelter to colorful and musical birds like the Olive-backed Sunbird.

Please visit the following links to see more pictures:

Galleries of pictures of other kinds of sunbirds found in the Philippines


  1. The pictures are stunning, Sylvs, and the commentary so clear and concise! Mr. Torres would be proud.



    ps. Masarap bang kainin itong Olive-backed Sunbird na 'to?

  2. Nice blog Sylvs! I notice so many more types of birds when I'm out running now. And I 2nd Noel, beautiful photos, and nice concise writing. Strunk & White memories...and yes Prof. Torres, bad teeth and all...

  3. Don't forget the underarm sweat stains and flying laway, 'Chelline.

  4. Haha, thanks Noel and Michelline!

  5. Such beautiful birds and such great photos! To think they are all around us, I'll keep a better eye out for them on my next walk....Catha

  6. good to know - see lots of these and assumed they were hummingbirds.
    beautiful photos!

  7. i saw this bird in our garden today. i had to find out what it was called. thanks for the pictures and the detailed information.

  8. Sunbirds marami sa school namin, San Vicente Pilot School for Philippine Craftsmen, City of San Fernado, Pampanga.

  9. Thanks for the information. I've been seeing these birds frequent our aratiles and tabebuia trees. I tried to photograph it with digicam and tge results are not so good. At least now i know what i saw last time was a female olive back sunbird. It's really nice to keep flower trees in your garden.