Longevities of sunbirds and sugarbirds

The sunbirds and spiderhunters (family Nectariniidae) are small passerine birds found in the Old World. There are about 145 species with species diversity being highest in equatorial regions. They usually have decurved bills, as most sunbirds feed largely on nectar. They also feed on insects and spiders, especially when feeding young. Many sunbirds are brightly coloured, often with iridescent feathers, particularly in the males. Many species also have especially long tail feathers.

Amethyst Sunbird
Amethyst Sunbird, male


The sugarbirds (family, Promeropidae) are small passerine birds, restricted to southern Africa. They resemble large, long-tailed sunbirds, but but may be more closely related to the Australian honeyeaters.

Longevities of southern African sunbirds

The Birds of Africa handbook lists 81 sunbird species in Africa (excluding the Indian Ocean islands species), but there are few longevity records outside southern Africa. Although generally small, many southern African sunbird species have reached longevities over 8 years. The two sugarbird species are also included in the table below. The oldest known sunbird is an Olive Sunbird of 14 years 10 months (ring AC03697) in Malawi. See longevities of other birds here.

Olive Sunbird
Olive Sunbird, oldest sunbird species


Table. Longevity records for southern African sugarbirds and sunbirds

(from SAFRING database, y=years, m=months, d=days)

  No  Species   Latin  Longevity  Ring no
  749  Cape Sugarbird   Promerops cafer   14y 7m 14d  484931
  750  Gurney’s Sugarbird   Promerops gurneyi   13y 0m 27d  480688
  751  Malachite Sunbird   Nectarinia famosa  10y 0m 14d  AB59947
  752  Bronze Sunbird   Nectarinia kilimensis  9y 8m 29d  AA65742
  753  Orange-breasted Sunbird   Anthobaphes violacea  11y 4m 5d  W86963
  754  Coppery Sunbird   Nectarinia cuprea  6y 0m 15d  AB08761
  755  Marico Sunbird   Cinnyris mariquensis  7y 9m 7d  AF93671
  756  Purple-banded Sunbird   Cinnyris bifasciatus  7y 10m 24d  X36854
  758  Greater Double-collared Sunbird   Cinnyris afer  11y 1m 21d  AD51111
  759  Miombo Doublecollared Sunbird   Nectarinia manoensis  9y 1m 4d  AA65982
  760  Southern Double-collared Sunbird   Cinnyris chalybeus  11y 10m 24d  X85134
  761  Neergaard’s Sunbird   Cinnyris neergaardi  0y 5m 13d  X96987
  762  Variable Sunbird   Cinnyris venustus  8y 3m 25d  X74386
  763  White-bellied Sunbird   Cinnyris talatala  13y 11m 28d  A97607
  764  Dusky Sunbird   Cinnyris fuscus  3y 0m 3d  L08732
  765  Grey Sunbird   Cyanomitra veroxii  5y 7m 2d  AF37772
  766  Olive Sunbird   Cyanomitra olivacea  14y 10m 1d  AC03697
  771  Collared Sunbird   Hedydipna collaris  10y 0m 8d  AA55981
  772  Amethyst Sunbird   Chalcomitra amethystina  12y 0m 20d  AF75048
  774  Scarlet-chested Sunbird   Chalcomitra senegalensis  9y 2m 11d  AA52818

Biometrics of southern African sunbirds and sugarbirds

Larger (by mass) sunbirds have longer bill lengths, as shown neatly in the graph below. The two sugarbirds are slightly heavier relative to bill length than expected, relative to the sunbirds.

Collared Sunbird
Collared Sunbird, sunbird species with the shortest bill length in southern Africa


The smallest sunbird (by mass) is Neergaard’s Sunbird at an average mass of 6.7g. The sunbird with the shortest bill is the Collared Sunbird, with an average bill length of 15 mm. The largest sunbird, by both mass and bill length, is the Malachite Sunbird.

Sunbird and sugarbird biometrics


  If you would like to ring sunbirds or other birds, book a trip with Dieter at Birds4Africa !
Dieter is a qualified Bird Ringer and trainer, registered bird guide, and Weaver expert. Dieter is able to act as a bird guide for day trips in Cape Town, and is able to customise birds tours in South Africa and beyond.