Of Hummingbirds and Sunbirds: Rules for Jewels


Clockwise from upper left:  Tufted Coquette, Green Thorntail, Gould’s Jewelfront, Green Violetear, Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Allen’s Hummingbird (center)

Early European explorers were amazed by the hummingbirds of the Americas, with their dazzling colors and ability to hover and even fly backwards.  Across Africa, Asia, and Australia, however, hummingbirds have a near-equal.  While not quite able to maneuver as much (though most can hover), sunbirds are just as dazzling.  Both species groups have iridescent feathers that shine in sunlight at just the right angle, but otherwise may appear rather dark and dull.  And both, of course, zoom around flowers, feeding on nectar and small insects.

The two groups are separated by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans– and 80 million years. Sunbirds are Passeriformes; hummingbirds are not.


Clockwise from upper left:  Double-collared Sunbird, South Africa; Variable Sunbird, Ethiopia; Malachite Sunbird, Tanzania; Crimson Sunbird, Singapore; Gould’s Sunbird, China; Purple Sunbird, India; Green-tailed Sunbird, Thailand (center)


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