Sparkling Gem of the Forest: The Southern Double-collared Sunbird’s Tiny Beauty Shines Bright

In the Old World, sunbirds are equivalent to hummingbirds in the Americas. These dazzling birds have striking colors that shine in the sunlight. Males are typically more flamboyant, making them easy to identify, while females have more subdued hues, making recognition challenging. (My non-birdwatching, proofreading spouse has suggested I rephrase the last sentence, but you get the idea.)

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird boasts a length of 12 cm. Its male counterpart has a stunning glossy, metallic green head, throat, upper breast, and back that add to its appeal. A striking red band spans across the chest, separated from the green breast by a thin metallic blue band, while the remaining underparts are whitish. During display, yellow feather tufts on the shoulders become visible. Like other sunbirds, its bill is long and curved downwards, and its legs and feet are black. The dark brown eye adds to the bird’s overall charm.

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird can be identified from the Greater Double-collared Sunbird by its smaller size, shorter bill and narrower red chest band. The female of this species has brown upperparts and yellowish-grey underparts, while the juvenile looks similar to the female. Compared to the female Orange-breasted Sunbird, the female Southern Double-collared Sunbird has a greyer underpart, and is darker below than the female Dusky Sunbird.

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird is typically spotted alone or in small clusters. Its swift and straight flight is supported by its short wingspan. While it primarily feeds on nectar from flowers, it also consumes fruit and occasionally insects and spiders, particularly when raising young. While it can gather nectar while hovering like a hummingbird, it typically perches to feed. Its distinct call is a sharp “chee-chee,” and its song is a melodious mixture of high-pitched tinkling notes that rise and fall in pitch and tempo for up to five seconds or longer.

The African Paradise Flycatcher breeds in forest edges and gardens, constructing an untidy oval nest that is usually perched 2m to 3m above ground level. The nest is carefully secured within the foliage and features a hood of fine grass projecting over the entrance. In addition, loose nesting material can often be seen hanging from the bottom. Breeding season for this bird species typically spans from July to November, with a clutch size of two. However, Klaas’s Cuckoo frequently parasitizes their nests. The female bird is solely responsible for the 15 to 16-day incubation period, while the nestling/fledging phase lasts approximately 15 or 16 days.

The Southern Double-collared Sunbird can often be found in gardens, fynbos, forests, and coastal scrub. The breeding season for this sunbird varies depending on the region but typically occurs between April to December. The nest is made from various plant materials, including grass and lichen, held together with spider webs. The nest is oval-shaped with a side entrance, sometimes featuring a porch, and is lined with feathers, wool, and plant down.

The region on the eastern side of South Africa, along with part of Swaziland, is home to a widespread endemic. Though it does not inhabit Lesotho, this species is a frequent resident in the Upper Highway area and is not considered endangered. One fascinating aspect of this bird is that its bill differs in shape and size depending on the type of flower it feeds on for nectar. Scientists believe this is due to co-evolution, where two species mutually develop advantageous traits through reciprocal genetic changes.