Giant sunbird (Nectarinia thomensis)

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Giant sunbird fact file

Giant sunbird description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyNectariniidae
GenusNectarinia (1)

This large sunbird is noted for its remarkable bill which, like other sunbirds, is long and curved and well adapted for probing flowers and bark for food (3). The giant sunbird has matt black plumage, embellished with a deep blue and purple iridescence, and a long, graduated tail with whitish tips (2) (3). There are no significant differences in the appearance of male and female giant sunbirds, which sing a deep and melodious ‘swee woo wee woo wee(3).

Synonyms
Dreptes thomensis.
French
Grand Souimanga de São Tomé.
Size
Length: 15 – 17 cm (2)
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Giant sunbird biology

The giant sunbird has a more varied diet than most other sunbirds, feeding not only on nectar, but also on invertebrates. It feeds by hovering in front of flowers (4), like a hummingbird but with slower wingbeats (5), and also pierces the base of flowers to obtain the rich, sugary nectar. While creeping along branches, the giant sunbird probes bark, moss and lichen with its long bill, searching for invertebrate prey (2) (4).

Sunbirds, known for being aggressive and territorial, usually construct nests of fine moss and cobwebs, suspended from twigs and branches (5). Nests of the giant sunbird have been found in late December and early January (2).

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Giant sunbird range

Endemic to São Tomé, an island situated in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa (3).

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Giant sunbird habitat

The giant sunbird inhabits primary forest, where it is found from the understorey to the canopy (3). Lowland primary forest holds the majority of giant sunbird populations, but giant sunbirds may also be found in montane forest (4), at elevations up to at least 2,000 metres (2).

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Giant sunbird status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable

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Giant sunbird threats

Historically, large expanses of lowland and mid-altitude forest in São Tomé were cleared for cocoa and coffee plantations (2). Since a crash in cocoa prices, many former plantations have now reverted into secondary forest, but less than 30 percent of the island remains covered in primary forest (4). Further loss or alteration of the island’s primary forest is the single most significant threat facing the giant sunbird. Timber extraction, primarily for fuel and building materials, threatens the undisturbed forest of lowland areas, while montane primary forest is at immediate risk from encroaching agriculture. A particular concern is plans by the government to sell off forested areas to private companies (4).

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Giant sunbird conservation

There are currently no known specific conservation measures in place for the giant sunbird. The protection of areas of primary forest on São Tomé has been proposed, but as yet the forest remains worryingly unprotected. BirdLife International, the conservation organisation which assessed the conservation status of the giant sunbird, recommends that further research into the population size, distribution and ecological requirements of this Vulnerable species is required in order to propose conservation actions (2).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the giant sunbird see:

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Authentication

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
Secondary forest
Forest that has re-grown after a major disturbance, such as fire or timber harvest, but has not yet reached the mature state of primary forest.
Territorial
An animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (March, 2008)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=8257&m=0
  3. Sinclair, I. and Ryan, P. (2003) Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  4. Peet, N.B. and Atkinson, P.W. (1994) The biodiversity and conservation of the birds of São Tomé and Príncipe. Biodiversity and Conservation, 3: 851 - 867.
  5. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
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Image credit

Giant sunbird perched  
Giant sunbird perched

© Fabio Olmos

Fabio Olmos
f-olmos@uol.com.br

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