Sunbirds Of Nairobi National Park – Article by Gareth Jones
Wonderful Sunbird Therapy! – Nairobi National Park
After plentiful rains this year, there is an abundance of wildflowers in the park, as a result, many species actively gain nutrition from flowers, including the wonderful sunbirds. Sunbirds are incredibly created and are a pleasure for those who take time to find them and watch them.
According to the official Checklist of birds of Nairobi National Park – there are possibly as many as 13 species of sunbirds that could frequent the park, ranging from rarely seen to commonly seen. Species include the variable sunbird, scarlet chested sunbird, bronze sunbird, collared sunbird, beautiful sunbird, amethyst sunbird, double-collared sunbird, malachite sunbird, Marico sunbird, Tacazze sunbird and golden-winged sunbird. Most sunbirds feed largely on nectar, but will also eat insects and spiders, to boost their protein intake especially when feeding their young. Flowers that prevent access to their nectar because of their shape (for example, very long and narrow flowers) are simply punctured at the base for access, then the birds sip the nectar. Their flight is fast and direct, thanks to their short wings. As nectar is a primary food source for sunbirds, they are important pollinators in African ecosystems. The majority of sunbirds breed in the wet season. This timing reflects the increased availability of insect prey for the growing young.
Sometimes it can be very rewarding to find a place where there are many flowers and then sit quietly and wait for sunbirds to visit the flowers, like the Leonotis leonurus (lion’s head or wild dagga) that attracts nectarivorous birds (mainly sunbirds), and various insects such as butterflies. The flowers are mainly orange to orange-red colour and tubular-shaped. Sunbirds are highly active birds, and obviously have a high metabolism that requires a high energy intake. So it is important for these birds to get as much nectar as possible, their “flower power” doses that keep them going. There is constant sunbird competition around the flowers, as various species and individuals regularly chase each other in the hope of getting the best nectar treats. It is useful to note that as with many bird species it is the males that are brightly coloured, often with iridescent feathers. Males are usually quite colourful, partly due to iridescence which can cause them to appear of varied appearance depending on the lighting (thus their name, sunbirds). Females are not iridescent and thus less colourful. Some species can hover like hummingbirds, but most perch while feeding. Their flight is fast and direct on their short wings. The nests of sunbirds are generally purse-shaped, enclosed, suspended from thin branches with generous use of spiderweb.
Sunbirds and hummingbirds have similar tongues. Sunbirds drink with their tongue by rapidly lapping nectar. Their tongues have tubes which run down their lengths and help the sunbirds drink the nectar. High-speed photography has revealed that the tubes open down their sides as the tongue goes into the nectar, and then close around the nectar, trapping it so it can be pulled back into the beak. So effectively their tongues are an incredibly detailed micro-suction pump. Wow! what a wonderful instrument of creation.
Apart from being a pleasure to watch, it is also very therapeutic to watch them for some time. In this fast-paced crazy world we live in, it is good to find moments that we can escape for a while and focus on something else. Sitting amongst hundreds of wildflowers and watching many sunbirds come and go, is like a wonderful “power dawa” or “soul tonic” for our innermost being. I believe that God created much of the beauty in nature for the joy and pleasure of mankind. Sunbirds are especially unique in that they are petite and exquisite some with beautiful colours. Why don’t you try some sunbird therapy?
The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.