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Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 

Kaapse suikervoël [Afrikaans]; Kaapse suikervogel [Dutch]; Promérops du Cap [French]; Kap-honigfresser [German]; Papa-açúcar do Cabo [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: Promeropidae

Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 
Cape sugarbird female, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 
Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 
Cape sugarbird male, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©] Cape sugarbird male feeding on Leucospermum conacarpodendron, Betty's Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©].                                                                                                    Cape sugarbird male on Leucospermum cordifolium, Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©].

Distribution and habitat

Endemic to the fynbos biome of the Western Cape extending into the Eastern Cape, as it is highly dependent on Protea's for nectar and nesting sites.

Distribution of Cape sugarbird 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.  

Predators and parasites

It (as an adult, chick or egg) has been recorded as prey of the following animals:


It mainly feeds on the nectar of Protea, Leucospermum and Mimetes, making it a major pollinator of the protea family (Proteaceae), partly because it can visit around 300 flowers per day. It also drinks the nectar of other plants and hawks insects aerially, it is was even observed attempting to drink nectar from coloured clothing pegs! The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • A monogamous solitary nester, the male vigorously defends his territory against other males and predatory species, such as Common fiscal (Lanius collaris) and Southern boubou (Laniarius ferrugineus).
  • The nest (see images below) is built solely by the female in about 5-10 days, first gathering dead Erica leaves, bracken and dry grass and then moulding them with its body into a cup shape. The outside of the structure is reinforced with stems of plants such as restios, serrurias (Serruria) and everlastings (Helichrysum), while the interior is lined with grass and brown fluff from Protea flowers. It is typically placed in the foliage of a bush, especially Protea but also other genera; it has been recorded to nest in the following plants:
    • Protea
      • P. eximea (Broad-leaved protea)
      • P. grandiceps
      • P. neriifolia (Narrow-leaved protea)
    • Erica
    • Pteridium aqualinum (Bracken)
    • Rubus (brambles)
    • Leucodendrum argenteum (Silvertree)
    • Metalasia
    • Brunia nodiflora (Brunia)
    • Cliffortia odorata (cliffortia)
    • Helichrysum auriculatum (everlasting)
    • Stoebe plumose (Snake-bush)
    • Felicia relfexa (felicia)
    • Selago corymbosa (selago)
    • Rhus (currants)
    • alien plants
      • Hakea sericea (Silky hakea)
      • Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans)
      • Acacia saligna (Port Jackson willow)
      • Phoenix camariensis (Canary island palm)
Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird)  Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 
Promerops cafer (Cape sugarbird) 

Cape sugarbird female at nest with chick. [photo Peter Steyn ©]

Top right: Cape sugarbird feeding chicks, Helderberg, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]                                                              Bottom right: Cape sugarbird chicks. [photo Peter Steyn ©]
  • Egg-laying is season mainly from March-August, peaking from March-June, coinciding with the flowering of proteas.
  • It lays 1-2 eggs, which are incubated solely by the female for about 12-20 days, defending against predators by performing a distraction display in which it drops to the ground with drooping wings like it has been injured.
  • The young chicks are brooded solely by the female but fed by both adults on a diet of nectar, although once they got older they are more commonly fed on insects. They eventually leave the nest after about 18 days, after which they remain dependent on their parents for food for another 18 days, soon after which they are chased from the territory.


Not threatened, although invasion by alien plants such as Rooikrans (Acacia cyclops) has seriously affected its population, as well as a decrease in nest site availability due to frequent fires in fynbos.


  • 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.