Purple Sunbird Photo Guide

I invite you to take a brief tour through images of this tiny bird which is widespread all over India.I have handpicked images which captures the key features of the bird. By seeing these photos, and reading the tips below, you can get familiar with this bird. However,I encourage you to make your own mental notes of features you find unique and striking.
nectarinia asiatica

Photo Courtesy of J.M.Garg @ Kolkata,West Bengal, Jan 2008

Here is a male bird, looking very grand in his shiny breeding plumage.He has a relatively shorter beak compared to the similar looking Loten’s sunbird.This guy’s belly is so much more darker, its a bluish black rather than the smokey brown of the Loten’s sunbird. If you sighted the bird in the southern peninsular India, then these tips will help you distinguish this guy from the Loten’s sunbird, who is found only there.


purple sunbird male

Photo Courtesy of Sourabh Biswas @ Kolkata,West Bengal, Feb 2015

Here is a another view of the male bird displaying the iridescent plumage under good light.If you look closely, you can see a narrow dark maroon breast band which is absent sometimes. Note that the belly is bluish black.

hover feeding sunbird male

Photo Courtesy of Joby Joseph @ Hyderabad Central University,Hyderabad,May 2011

Although they usually perch to feed, they can hover over flowers just like their new world counterparts, the hummingbirds.They feed on small insects and spiders in addition to nectar from flowers.
This shot contains a hard to observe feature of the male bird.They are the yellow pectoral tufts, tinged with orangish red. This is hard to see unless the bird is preening or opens its wings.They usually use these bright feathers during display to females.purple sunbird cinnyris asiaticus feeding from calotropis

Photo Courtesy of Aditya Laghate
@ Veer Dam near Pune,May,2011

Here is another shot of the male that has perched to feed on calotropis flowers.Note his overall blue-blakc appearance and the shorter bill compared to Loten’s sunbird.

Now let us look at the non-breeding plumage a.k.a. eclipse plumage of the male. purple sunbird eclipse male

Photo Courtesy of PC Rasmussen @ Great Rann of Kutch,Gujarat,Dec,2009

This agile little bird is perching upside down to feed! This is a male in eclipse plumage.He is very similar to a female bird.The main difference is that he has a black band from his chin to breast (looks like a beard). Besides,he has vestigial iridescence in his plumage.

This photograph exposes another behavior of the bird. Although by nectar feeding they help to cross-pollinate flowers, they can sometimes pierce the base of the flowers to reach at the nectar, thus by-passing the pollen! However, they play a very important role in the ecosystem in pollination as well as keeping the insect populations under check.

I guess we have been describing the male for a while now. Let me introduce the female without further ado.purple sunbird female

Photo Courtesy of PC Rasmussen @ Great Rann of Kutch,Gujarat,Dec,2009

Well, she does not have the mesmerizing metallic hues.She wears a modest brown and yellow garb.Her yellow is a bit more brighter than the female Loten’s sunbird. Also, she has a faint supercilium i.e. “eyebrow”. The easier way to recognize if this is a female purple sunbird is infact, look for the male nearby!

purple sunbird female

Photo Courtesy of shrikant rao @ Kanwa,Uttar Pradesh,Aug,2014

Here is another female bird.Notice her rather bright yellow neck and breast. If you look closely, you will notice the faint supercilium as well.The supercilium is fainter than the specimen in the previous photo. But its there and is a good reminder of how individual differences prevail among them just like us. They are not some factory objects cast out of the same die.

Purple sunbird illustration

Photo Courtesy of  Biodeiversity Heritage Library @ A monograph of the Nectariniidae, or, Family of sun-birds,By Capt. G.E.Shelley 1876-1880

In this illustration, the artist has captured all the essential field marks of the male, both eclipse and normal, and a female.

purple sunbird nest

Photo Courtesy of Andy.J.Hull @ Dehra Dun,Uttarakhand,May,2012

Here is a female building her nest on a kitchen window! These birds don’t shy away from urban areas.

Salim Ali in his book, The Birds of India, notes so:
“Breeding males habitually perch on the topmost branches of a tree, a telegraph wire or in some other exposed situation and ‘ sing ‘ excitedly cheewit-cheewit-cheewit repeated quickly from 2 to 6 times.”
Well, here is one male perched on an electric wire just like Salim Ali noted.We can guess that he is displaying as the pecotral tufts are visible.
displaying male purple sunbird

Photo Courtesy of Arunachala Birds @ Rajiv Gandhi Nagar,Arunachala,Tamil Nadu,Nov,2008

Nests may be found practically all the year, but the most general breeding months are March to May.Only the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs,but the male assists in tending the young.

juvenile purple sunbird

Photo Courtesy of  Kishore Bhargava @ Greenwoods City, Gurgaon ,Jul 2012

This is a fledgling bird i.e. a young one who has moved out of nest but still fed and cared by the parents.You can tell that this is a fledgling from its “clown mouth” i.e. yellow bordering the mouth and because it is able to perch.Even younger birds are unable to perch.During this critical time, adult birds teach their young, key survival skills such as how to find food, avoid predators and even how to communicate.

References
1.The fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma Birds By Eugene W. Oates,1889
2.The Book of Indian Birds By Salim Ali,Published by The Bombay Natural History Society,1941
3.Purple Sunbird page @ Wikipedia
4.“Orphaned” Baby Birds By Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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