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Cinnyris venustus (Variable sunbird, Yellow-bellied sunbird) 

[= Nectarinia venusta

Geelpenssuikerbekkie [Afrikaans]; Dzonya, Tsodzo (both are generic names for sunbird) [Shona]; Ornaathoningzuiger [Dutch]; Souimanga ventre jaune [French]; Gelbbauch-nektarvogel [German]; Beija-flor-de-barriga-amarela [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

Cinnyris venustus (Variable sunbird, Yellow-bellied sunbird)   

Variable sunbird male, Mai Hutsa, near Asmara, Eritrea. [photo Solomon Abraha ]


Distribution and habitat

It has two separate populations in sub-Saharan Africa, one in West Africa and the other extending from Eritrea, through Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania to southern Africa. Here it is uncommon to locally common in central Mozambique and the eastern half of Zimbabwe, generally preferring moist habitats with dense undergrowth, such as Burkea savanna, miombo (Brachystegia) woodland, herbaceous scrub on highlands and along rivers, edges of evergeen forest, sheltered valleys cut into hillsides and Protea-strewn hills.

Distribution of Variable 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).

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as host of the following parasites:

  • Blood parasites
    • Leucocytozoon nectarinae
    • Haemoproteus sequirae
    • Plasmodium
  • Feather mites
    • Pterodectes hologaster
    • Xolalges glossopus


It eats nectar supplemented with arthropods, gleaning prey from plant stems and leaves and hawking insects aerially. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Nectar
    • Erythrina latissima (Broad-leafed coral-tree)
    • Combretum paniculatum (Forest burning-bush combretum)
    • Faurea rochetiana (Broad-leaved beachwood)
    • Loranthaceae (mistletoes)
    • Leonotis (wild dagga)
    • Salvia
    • Kniphofia (torch lilies)
    • Protea
    • Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda)
  • Arthropods


  • The nest is built mainly by the female in about 10-20 days, consisting of an oval-shaped structure made of fine grass stems and blades, sometimes along with dry reeds, fibres, rootlets, withered leaves and flower heads bound together with spider web. A circular entrance hole is position on the side-top of the nest, sometimes with a "porch" of stiff grass stems protruding beneath it. It is often camouflaged with large bits of material, while the interior is thinly lined with silvery thistle down, Clematis seeds and other woolly plant material. It is typically placed in a tall weed or small sapling in recently burnt woodland with sparse undergrowth, although it may occasionally use a deserted building instead.
  • Egg-laying season is year round, peaking from March-June and in September.
  • It lays 1-2 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 14 days, leaving the nest intermittently in the morning and late afternoon to go and forage.
  • The chicks are brooded solely by the female but fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about 12-16 days.


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.