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Nectarinia famosa (Malachite sunbird)

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

Nectarinia famosa (Malachite sunbird)

Malachite sunbird male, West Coast Fossil Park, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo H. Robertson, Iziko ]

Nectarinia famosa (Malachite sunbird) Nectarinia famosa (Malachite sunbird)
Malachite sunbird male, West Coast National Park, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ] Malachite sunbird female, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Distribution and habitat

It is discontinuous across East Africa, with a separate and larger population in southern Africa. Here it occurs along the West coast of South Africa bordering on Namibia, extending east through the Eastern Cape and Lesotho to KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo Province. It also occupies Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, bordering on Mozambique. It occurs in a variety of habitats, ranging from alpine and montane grasslands to scrubby hillsides in mountainous areas, as well as in arid steppes of Namaqualand, riverine thornbush, gardens, parks and alien plantations.

Distribution of Malachite 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). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Klaas's cuckoo.


Its diet is mainly made up of nectar supplemented with small Arthropods. It usually forages singly or in pairs, but it may aggregate in groups of over 100 at localised food sources (e.g. large clumps of flowering Aloe). The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Nectar
    • Aloe
      • A. broomii (Snake aloe)
      • A. ferox (Bitter aloe)
      • A. hereroensis (Sand aloe)
      • A. marlothii (Mountain aloe)
      • A. arborescens (Krantz aloe)
      • A. maculata (Soup aloe)
    • Protea
      • P. simplex
      • P. roupelliae (Silver protea)
      • P. caffra (Common protea)
      • P. lacticolor (Hottentot white protea)
      • P. angolensis (Northern protea)
      • P. cynaroides
      • P. gaguedi (African protea)
      • P. madiensis
      • P. neriifolia (Narrow-leaved protea)
      • P.  petiolaris (Sickle-leaved protea)
    • Olea (wild olives)
    • Cotyledon orbiculata (Varkoor)
    • Watsonia (watsonia)
    • Disa chrysostachya (disa)
    • Kniphofia (torch lilies)
    • Leonotis (wild daggas)
    • Tecoma capensis (Cape-honeysuckle)
    • Strelitzia
    • Glischrocolla formosa
    • Melianthus villosus (Maroon honey flower)
    • Buddleja salviifolia (Sagewood)
    • Greyia sutherlandia (Glossy bottlebrush)
    • Jacaranda mimosifolia (Jacaranda)
    • Nicotiana glauca (Wild tobacco)
  • Arthropods
  • Small lizards (rarely)


  • It is a monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with pair bonds only lasting for the duration of the breeding season. A breeding pairs territory can be as small as 800 metres squared and usually contains large clumps of flowering plants. The male is hardly present during the whole breeding process, occasionally bringing food to the female or chicks.
  • The nest (see image below) is constructed solely by the female, and is a teardrop-shaped construction built of dry grass and plant down bound with spider web. It usually placed in a low bush 1-2 metres above ground.
Nectarinia famosa (Malachite sunbird)  

Malachite sunbird female in nest, which was placed above the grave of Louie Leipold, located in the Cedarberg. [photo Duncan Robertson ]

  • Egg-laying season peaks from September-December.
  • It lays 1-4 eggs which are incubated solely by the female for about 12-14 days. Every 15-50 minutes it takes a break to go foraging - the male rarely brings her food.
  • The chicks are cared for mainly the female, staying in the nest for about 13-17 days, becoming independent up to 24 days later.


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.