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Sugarbird (Promerops cafer)

The Cape Sugarbird is one of only six bird species considered endemic to the Cape Floral Kingdom.  It is a brown bird with a splash of bright yellow below its long tail, and is found everywhere in Cape Fynbos where there are proteas or bird-pollinated ericas.

This bird is a specialist of the Proteaceae, visiting and pollinating species with a wide variety of floral designs.  Its staple diet is nectar, supplemented with spiders and insects, and it visits about 300 protea flowerheads every day during autumn and winter to satisfy its energy requirements.   The Sugarbirds probe into bowl-shaped proteas such as the King Protea (p. cynaroides) and the Queen Protea (p. magnifica), chalice-shaped flowers such as Protea nerifolia, cup-shaped flowers like those of Protea nitida, and the pincushions (leucospermum spp.).

The sugarbirds' very sharp claws enable them to grip onto branches and flowerheads and to continue feeding and pollinating even when strong winds force other birds to take cover in the undergrowth.

On Fijnbosch Farme, it lives up to its place in our logo by frollicking in the proteas and precociously dive-bombing us when we come to pick the flowers.  Most of our fresh-cut Queen Protea flowers have little brown scratches on their tepals from the sugarbirds' sharp claws when they perch on the buds before they open.

The male has a ridiculously long tail, sometimes five times its body length, which flaps and waves in the wind while the bird darts between the protea flowers.  Three of the male sugarbird's main flight feathers are distinctly broadened into a bulge on the inner web.  These cause a characteristic frrrt-frrrt sound when the wings are beaten rapidly during the display flight (or when trying to "buzz" us).

Since most proteas flower during winter, large numbers of sugarbirds gather on the lower mountain slopes to breed during this time.  In early summer, when the flowering period is over they disperse (often into suburban gardens with summer-flowering shrubs).

The bird in these photos seemed to be keeping just ahead of our picking, sucking out the last bits of nectar before the flower was cut and put in the bag.  She seemed quite comfortable sitting close enough for me to take these pictures with the "Macro" setting on my camera.

Once we had finished picking all the flowers, the sugarbirds were justifiably unhappy and perturbed.  They seemed to be watching us loading the flowers into the truck.   When I held up one of the flowers, a bird promptly flew onto it and started feeding.  Below is a picture of Philip holding up a flower for a hungry Sugarbird female.

Click here to hear the bird's call(40kB).

File sugarbird.wav39.1 KB