Africa has no hummingbirds (Trochilidae) but they have a family of nectar-feeding birds with many of the same characteristics: Sunbirds (Nectariniidae). Though the two families are unrelated they’re an example of convergent evolution, equipped with the same tools and habits.
The similarities between hummingbirds and sunbirds are striking. Both have:
- Brilliantly colored males, often iridescent
- Sexually dimorphic females
- Long curved bills for collecting nectar
- Short wings and fast, direct flight
- Feed primarily on nectar
- Feed insects and spiders to their young
- Are important flower pollinators
- Preferred flowers are red or orange, long and tubular
- Those that live where it’s cold can enter torpor.
Their differences are also interesting:
Hummingbirds vs. Sunbirds
|New World only
|Old World: Africa, Asia, Australasia
|Range in size from 1.59 g to 20 grams
|Range in size from 5 g to 45 grams
|Hover and have tiny feet
|Perch with normal feet
|Don’t hang out with family
|Usually found in pairs; sometimes in family or larger groups
|Some make long migrations
|Sedentary or short-distance migrations
|Hummingbird beaks can’t pierce flowers. That’s the job of flowerpiercers.
|Sunbirds pierce flowers if the nectar is too hard to reach.
The scarlet-chested is very iridescent and, amazingly, is considered a pest in cocoa plantations because it spreads parasitic mistletoes according to Wikipedia.
The amethyst sunbird has fewer iridescent spots …
… but an interesting voice.
Beautiful as sunbirds are, I’m glad we have hummingbirds instead.
Autor Kate St. John