Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

By Alfred Chia.

I had written briefly on my Facebook page about the nesting of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis along the corridor of my flat. The nest was however built out-of-sight and out-of-reach and hung from one of my plant which overhangs beyond the parapet wall. You will not be able to see it unless you take the trouble to peer over the wall.

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Link: https://www.facebook.com/540928362/posts/10158109695448363/?d=n

Briefly, the female sunbird started constructing the nest on or before 10 February 2020. On 16 March, the female started occupying the nest. From 8 April onwards, the male was observed bringing food to the nest very frequently, each time perching on another plant that is visible to me as I stand within my house, before it flies into the nest to feed its fledgling. Out of two chicks, one survived, as is usual. This chick fledged on 18 April, about twelve days after hatching. After this, the fledgling was not seen but the two parent birds still came to my plants sporadically.

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On 21 April, something unexpected (at least to me) happened. I had peered beyond the parapet wall at 1100 hours just to see if there is still any activity at the nest. No activity was seen, as has been the case since the chick fledged on 18 April but it was noticed that the nest opening was a wee bit messed up such that the opening was partially blocked. At 1315 hours, I went back out again to have a look. I was shocked at what confronted me. The nest was missing! I looked at the small ledge that was directly below the area where the nest was at formerly to see if it had dropped onto it. Besides some remnant dried leaves that were already there for some time, the nest was nowhere to be found. Baffled, I took the lift to the ground floor to further check if the nest had dropped there. Again, it was not found.

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A flurry of questions immediately ran through my mind. What happened to the nest? Did the sunbird remove the nest intentionally? Or was it relocated? Why did they do it? Where could it have taken it to? Could it have been the female sunbird who remove it? Could it have carried the entire nest structure away in one fell swoop because the remnant dried leaves on the ledge does not indicate that it had increased exponentially?

I had a previous unexplained experience of an incomplete Olive-backed Sunbird nest missing too. This was on a plant along the corridor. It was halfway through construction when suddenly it just disappeared. It was a clean act too as the floor directly below the nest was clean and devoid of any nesting material. At that time, I had even surmised that my friendly block cleaner could have taken it off my plant as the nest building can be very messy with bits of the material being dropped onto the floor constantly. About two months after this incident, I had my niece, who lives in Yishun, coming up to me to ask if sunbirds are capable of removing nest after painstakingly building it. Hers was also in the midst of being constructed when she realised that it was missing the next day. When I ask if it could have been the block’s cleaner who had removed it, she replied that the cleaner hardly ever cleans the corridor.

A check through my Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters & Sugarbirds monograph by Robert A. Cheke & Clive F. Mann reveal no such information on nest removal or relocation. A check through the internet & other resources did not help either.

It will be interesting to know if any of our readers, birders or photographers have noted such behaviour from an Olive-backed Sunbird  before. I’d be glad to hear from you. Additionally, it may be well worth to follow-up on future nesting of this species if you come across it – both pre and post-nesting.

33 thoughts on “Unexplained observations of an Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis nesting.

  1. VirgoSG

    It seems to me unlikely (though perhaps not impossible) that an Olive-backed Sunbird would have the strength and carrying capacity to remove the whole nest and relocate it. And anyway, why would it? More likely that a larger nesting bird opportunistically saw a whole bunch of ready-made nesting material that it could seize and carry off to use in its own nest building elsewhere….a Spotted Dove perhaps, or a Myna, or Bulbul.

    Thinking back, I’ve had at least two separate Olive-backed Sunbird nests in my garden — one in a palm tree hanging over a pool lounger where debris would be obvious. Both that I recall have disappeared, perhaps via the same means.

    Just a thought

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    1. Margaret Brignone

      Hi. I’ve had a pair build a nest on my back patio, about October, had 1 baby which along with the parents stated around my back garden for several days. Even mum & bub sleepted on a hanging pot near the nest for 2 nights.
      About a week later, not sure if the same couple, repaired the nest & had 2 babies. Now about 2 weeks later the nest is being repaired again, presumably to be used again.
      I have never seen this happen before. Have had the same spot used to build each year , but never reused. ,?????

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  2. Lim Khoon Hin

    In early April just as we started our lockdown, these sunbirds started building a nest in one of my bamboo plants on my balcony, Great I got something to photograph during the lock down but alas a few days later nest fell down during a windy day. My helper picked it up and put it back BUT differently, not in the exact position. The sunbirds returned but didn’t continue building. It was abandoned.

    But a week or ten days later, a male and 2 females returned and started to strip away the nest. Next day the remaining parts of the nest fell on my balcony floor but they continued to strip it from the floor and EVERY BIT and PIECES was taken away. I observed everything behind the curtains and my helper did not need to sweep the floor.

    That hopefully solves your missing nests. THE SUNBIRDS practice RECYCLE and REUSE.

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  3. tracyheng7

    Hi Alan

    Your posting on above-captioned is rather interesting.

    I shared your encounter with my friend, Ong P L, who has given me permission to share with you the attached photos. Ong P L actually took 26 photos from the day the nest was built till the day the 2 chicks fledged. I have arranged only few photos and input remarks (shared by Ong P L) in them so that it will be self-explanatory.

    In your case, Ong PL suspected there is a possibility that the cat might be the culprit behind the disappearance of the nest. After it had pulled/destroyed it to see if there were birds to eat, the nest could have disintegrated to pieces and dropped off and blew by the wind. Why Ong P L shared about the possibility of the cat mischief? Please refer to the Yellow-vented Bulbul’s photo herein. Nest was built in the Japanese bamboo plant at the car-porch. Unfortunately, a cat jumped on it (noticed the height from the floor to the nest?) and ate the chicks. She found the bones and nest on the floor next to the Japanese bamboo plant. At that height, the cat could jump and destroyed the nest. Your photo of the Olive-backed Sunbird’s nest had a platform. This might give the cat a stable area to rest upon and jump at the nest. This was Ong P L’s observation and thought after reading your story.

    Ong PL also shared that another person had experienced Olive-backed Sunbird’s nest. It wasn’t destroyed nor disappeared. In fact, another bird species occupied the nest and laid eggs.

    Hope this is useful to you.

    Regards, Tracy HENG

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  4. Ong Fu Shu

    The birds came to my balcony to build a nest this morning. It is still just a few threads now as most of the dried leaves they brought just fell to the floor. They picked the spot above the couch where I usually hangout at, but I’m willing to give them the space until they leave. Anything I should take note?

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    1. Alan OwYong Post author

      Hi Fu Shu. Thanks. If you have the time do record the important dates like when they complete building the nest, first eggs laid, hatched, fledged. In between you can not on any behaviour of the parent birds like which one did most of the building and which did the feeding etc. Good not note on the type of food or prey the parents brought back. Frequency of feeding. Basically note down as much as possible what you can observed.

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  5. Bryan

    I think Fu Shu meant if there is anything he/she should be aware of since he is living in such close proximity to the birds’ nest

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  6. Alan OwYong Post author

    Hi Byran. Sorry I misunderstood Fu Shu question. The OB Sunbirds are quite tolerant of humans even when they are nesting. Having said that it is best to minimise any disturbances during their nesting. Avoid trying to feed them or the chicks. If you wish to take photos of them do so at a good distance away. Isolate your pets especially cats from the area.

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    1. Chen Eddie

      I can confirm sunbirds are notorious of stealing other sunbird nest materials especially the white cushioning which they lined the interior, which I think are spider webs. Had a pair build a nest, and they’re disappeared ( didn’t knew they will disappear for a week). While they were away, another pair (male and female, larger size) were coming to the nest just to take the white stuff. I tried to stop it by putting cotton in the nest, but the just took the cotton and threw it on the floor and continue taking the webs. Fortunately, the original pair came back and massive fight occured. As of now the original pair laid a egg and it has hatched. I’m still observing the chick and both daddy and mummy are feeding the chick, and mummy will sit on it every night to keep it warm..will update more

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      1. Alan OwYong Post author

        Thanks Eddie for your report and observations. Sunbirds and others like tailorbirds use spider webs to bind the nest material together and stitch the leaves. The white cushioning soft material are most likely plant material or seed coverings

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  7. Nigel

    I have an olive-backed sunbird nesting on my windowsill along the HDB corridor.

    Yesterday we found the egg smashed on the floor. The female bird is still coming back to the nest to sit and also fly up and down chirping.

    There didn’t seem to be another egg in the nest.

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  8. Eileen Choo

    I chanced upon your blog while googling on olive backed sunbirds. This is the second time that the sunbirds nest in the potted plant outside my main door. Something happened and one of the fledgling hung on outside the nest and ACRES advised to put it back in the nest. We did so but it came out again today. I do believe that the parents still feed it as I did see them feeding the fledgling outside the nest. Does anyone know why it kept doing this? It does not seem ready to fly away from the nest as there are still naked areas on the body and the tail has not grown out yet. The beak is still yellow as well. There’s another fledgling in the nest as well so I’m suspecting that it is either too crowded in the nest or the other sibling kicked this fledgling out of the nest.

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    1. Alan OwYong Post author

      Thanks Eileen.
      If the other chick inside the nest is the older and stronger chick you may be right that it is trying to get rid of its younger sibling.

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  9. Malathy

    Sunbirds built nest in my 5 Room exec balcony. They built in a tree branch which I had picked up n set up hanging along with Spanish moss.
    9/10 Dec Building started. Balcony floor starts getting filled with excess fallen nest materials
    (We we’re away overseas fm 8 Dec to 23 Dec) so nest building observation was made by my parents.
    24 Dec Laid 2 eggs
    We observed Mother starts incubating on and off during the day
    And Full night shifts
    8 Jan both eggs hatched🐣 🐣
    Both mother and father feed with insects
    13 Dec first tiny chirps can be heard
    Between now and first flight feeding increases
    22 Jan father demonstrates and encourages babies to fly. First flight of the babies one after the other.
    They sit in the balcony for a while and fly out to neighbouring tree. They did return to the balcony a couple of times. Could recognise their chirps in trees outside. Never returned after that. Never came back to sleep in the nest :(. 🐥🐥

    Nest is empty

    26 Jan 2 different couples checking out empty nest (2 different sunbird species one bigger then the other) the males fm both sides fly around and check out the
    Nest. 10 mins this was happening with some kind of conversation or communication.

    29 Jan A pair hv taken over the nest. Repair/renovation takes place daily.
    5 Feb laid 2 eggs..
    Currently incubation process 😊
    Wishing a success hatching 🙏🏽

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    1. Alan OwYong Post author

      Many thanks for documenting the breeding biology of the sunbirds which i assumed to be the olive-backed. The intervals between the various stages are important to reference the breeding of other sunbirds and similar small species. You mentioned two species came to check the nest. Are you able to identify them

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      1. Malathy

        The other pair (male and female) that came to check out the nest along with the second pair of olive back sunbirds was the brown throated sunbird. Slightly larger in size. We were joking at home about that it must hv rejected the nest because of its size .
        The one that breed the first time and breeding now is yes the Olive backed sunbird . Thank you I documented the timeline because I hardly saw or read about it in detail anywhere.

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  10. Alan OwYong Post author

    Thanks again for the added info. It is not common for the Brown-throated or the Crimson sunbirds to nest near or at our balconies or venerdas although we have documented a Crimson nesting under the porch of a black and white bungalow at Wessex estate. Infact it is not frequent for us to find tfeir nests in our nature parks and forests as well. I may want to blog your account with acknowledgements. Do you have any photos of the feeding etc. Thanks

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    1. Malathy

      Wow! Thank you for that info. Learnt something new. It was truly amazing to watch the check out the nest. Sure I will be glad to share photos/videos of the olive back sunbirds nesting in my balcony. Can I send them via telegram and they are clearer on telegram then through watsapp.

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      1. Baby Cakes

        On Fri, 11 Feb 2022 at 7:06 PM, Singapore Bird Group wrote:

        > Alan OwYong commented: “You can email to us.” >

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  11. Sabrina

    Out of curiosity, I tried to check out the little hatchling resting in the nest hanging in the kitchen balcony, and to my surprise, the little one flew off just as I tried to take a peek. Heard it chirping nearby but didn’t see it return to the nest. I later saw the parents when they returned but they flew off as soon as they realised the little one is gone. It’s nighttime now and they haven’t returned. Will they ever?

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  12. Sunbird

    Came across these discussions as I was checking how to help my new pair of sunbirds who had built a nest just outside my window.

    Was happily monitoring the building of the nest which was nearing completion. To my horror this morning , found that it dropped, after hearing a fair bit of chirpings. Picked the nest up and rested it on the same branch where it was hanging, then Saw the sunbirds checking it out together, as though discussing if it could still be used; then they flew off.

    Wonder if I should help tie it back since the nest is intact, just that it loosened at the part attached to the branch. And thinking whether to help them reinforce it.

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  13. Sunbird

    Have just secured it back onto the branch, and saw one of the birds doing a u-turn while it was on its way to the nest 😅

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