The varied diet of the Brown-throated Sunbird.

Contributed by Seng Alvin.

The Brown-throated Sunbird, Anthreptes malacensis, is the largest sunbird among the six species in Singapore. I have been observing these beautiful birds for many years. They have been a joy to photograph and I never get tired of shooting them.

Looking back at my old photos, I realised that they feed on a variety of food and not just on nectar alone although this is their main source of energy.  This made them a generalist which may account for their presence in parks, gardens and disturbed woodlands.  This is a compilation of the photos I took over the years showing them taking fruit, seeds, caterpillars and nectar from a wide range of flowers. I hope that this will encourage others to document the feeding habits of these beautiful sunbirds so that we can learn more about them.

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Female taking nectar from a Red Button Ginger / Scarlet Spiral Flag flower. It uses its tubular long tongue to get to the nectar at the base of the flower and “sipped” it up by capillary action. 

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The nectar is at the base of the Hibiscus flower and the Brown-throated Sunbird  had to use its sharp bill to pierce the bottom of the flower to get to the nectar.

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The male seen here picking up a fruit from the Simpoh Ayer flower before swallowing it. These seeds are also favorites of bulbuls and other furgivorous birds.

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The Red Tree-vine or Leea Rubra are normally visited by bees and butterflies as their flowers are small. This male Brown-throated Sunbird must be attracted to the color or for a change of taste.

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Hanging on a thin twig just to get to the sweetest flower of the Earleaf Acacia is not a problem for this juvenile female. 

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Sunbirds unlike the humming birds do not hover to feed. They can save precious energy by clinking on to the flower of the Gelam Tree/ Tee Tree to feed.

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This male is out looking for protein for its youngs. This juicy caterpillar is just it needs. 


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The Saraca tree at Bukit Batok NP is a magnet for the Crimson, Van Hasselt’s and of course our Brown-throated. 

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The Fire Bush / Scarlet Bush is an introduced ornamental plant to our gardens, but it seem that the bill of the Brown-throated Sunbird is perfectly suited to get to the nectar inside.

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The red flower of the Teruntum Merah proves irresistible to this male sunbird.

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The dwarf Banana is planted to add color to a garden and its small flowers must have enough nectar to bring this female to it. It will also help to pollinate the flower.

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I am still trying to find out the name of this tree where this female managed to get to its seeds.

I would like to thank Ivan Kwan for helping me to ID all the trees/flowers/fruits in this album. A good start for me to learn the names of our plants and flowers that are great sources of food for our birds.

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