Elegant sunbird (Aethopyga duyvenbodei)

Also known as: Sanghir sunbird
GenusAethopyga (1)
SizeLength: 12 cm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

This large yet svelte, brightly coloured member of the Nectariniidae family (the sunbirds and spiderhunters) inhabits just one small island. The male elegant sunbird is considerably brighter than the female, with metallic green and blue patches on the crown and the upper parts of the wings and tail, and striking purple-red feathers covering the ears and encircling the neck like a collar. The rest of the upperparts are yellowish-olive, with a bright yellow band on the rump, and bright yellow underparts. By contrast, the female elegant sunbird has relatively drab yellow-olive upperparts but shares the prominent yellow rump and underparts (2). Like all sunbirds, this species has a thin, curved beak, like that of a hummingbird or honeyeater (3).

The call of the elegant sunbird is said to resemble the sounds produced by certain insects, and its vocalisations range from metallic ‘tink’ to weak ‘seep’ notes (4).

The elegant sunbird is confined to the Indonesian island of Sangihe (2), where it is thought to occur at its highest densities on Mount Sahendaruman (6). Historically, this species may have also occurred on the neighbouring island of Siau (2) (3).  

The elegant sunbird has been reported to be strongly forest dependent (5). However, it is now known to inhabit areas of Sangihe which were cleared of forest cover over 100 years ago (6), and has been reported in areas of scrub and plantations close to forest (2), provided large hardwood trees remain in the area and there is sufficient dense understory (5).

The elegant sunbird feeds on nectar from the flowers of various plants, including coconut (5), using its long, curved beak and tubular tongue to suck up the sugar-rich substance (4).It also gathers invertebrates from various plants and collects insects trapped in spiders’ webs (5). It is often observed in pairs or in small, single-sex groups (4), and is also commonly seen in flocks with other bird species (5).

Based upon observation of enlarged gonads in May and courtship behaviour in late November and December, it is assumed that the elegant sunbird has two mating seasons (4) (5). It is thought to lay clutches of two eggs, which are probably incubated for 14 to 17 days (7).

When the tiny island of Sangihe was first colonised in the 17th century, its forests were plundered for their natural resources of fruit, spices and fibres. When these were gone, the forests were replaced with plantations of bananas, coconuts, rubber and tea (7). After centuries of agriculture, Sangihe has now been almost entirely stripped of forest and only tiny patches remain (6) (8). Naturally, this has had a great impact on the island’s wildlife, including the elegant sunbird.

While the elegant sunbird is now thought to be able to survive in habitats without adjacent forest patches, agricultural practices continue to threaten even these areas (2), by removing the dense understory and scrub which the elegant sunbird requires (5). The species’ stronghold around Mount Sahendaruman represents the last remaining area of primary forest on Sangihe (6); unfortunately, this forest is inadequately protected, and agriculture continues to impinge at the forest edges (2).

Action Sampiri, a UK-based conservation group, has been working to promote wildlife conservation on Sangihe since 1995, by conducting fieldwork, running education and awareness programmes, and developing ideas for future land-use that may be mutually beneficial to the local people and wildlife (2). The primary forest fragment at Mount Sahendaruman is nominally protected, although action is limited (2), and forest in the Kentuhang valley also receives some protection, as part of a watershed for a hydroelectric scheme (2). Improved, effective protection of the forest at Mount Sahendaruman has been recommended (2), a measure that would not only help the elegant sunbird, but also the other highly threatened species clinging to existence in this tiny patch of forest. 

To find out more about threatened species inhabiting Mount Sahendaruman, and conservation work being undertaken, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
  2. BirdLife International (May, 2010)
  3. Prinzinger, R., Schafer, T. and Schuchmann, K.L. (1992) Energy metabolism, respiratory quotient and breathing parameters in two convergent small bird species: the fork-tailed sunbird Aethopyga christinae (Nectariniidae) and the Chilean hummingbird Sephanoides sephanoides (Trochilidae). Journal of Thermal Biology17(2): 71-79.
  4. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (2008) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 13: Penduline Tits to Shrikes. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  5. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  6. Riley, J. (2002) Population sizes and the status of endemic and restricted-range bird species on Sangihe Island, Indonesia. Bird Conservation International12(1): 53-78.
  7. Hildyard, A. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, Tarrytown, New York.
  8. The Encyclopedia of Earth (May, 2010)