home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Cinnyris shelleyi (Shelley's sunbird) 

[= Nectarinia shelleyi] 

Swartpenssuikerbekkie [Afrikaans]; Shelley-honingzuiger [Dutch]; Souimanga de Shelley [French]; Shelleys nektarvogel [German]; Beija-flor de Shelley [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Nectariniidae

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from southern Tanzania to Zambia, Malawi, north-eastern Mozambique and southern Africa. Here it is generally uncommon in northern Zimbabwe and north-western Mozambique, generally staying in miombo (Brachystegia) woodland in the breeding season, after which it disperses into Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijuga) and riparian woodland and reedbeds along rivers.

Distribution of Shelley's sunbird in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common).


It feeds on nectar and arthropods, hawking prey aerially and gleaning foliage in search of food. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Nectar
    • Loranthaceae (mistletoes)
    • Capparis tomentosa (Woolly caper-bush)
    • Combretum (bushwillows)
    • Tecoma capensis (Cape honeysuckle)
    • alien plants
      • Holmskodia (Chinese lanterns)
      • Lagerstroemia indica (Pride of India)
  • Arthropods


  • The nest is a sturdy, pear-shaped structure with a side-top entrance, built of dry grass, leaf petioles and leaves secured with spider web. The exterior is decorated with a few dried leaves and seed casings, thickly-lining the inside with vegetable down and feathers. It is typically attached to a twig in the foliage of a bush or in the canopy of a tree, anywhere from about 1-10 metres above ground.
  • Egg-laying season in Zambia is from August-October, peaking during September.
  • It usually lays 2 pale bluish grey eggs, heavily smeared with grey and speckled with olive.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.