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Species Guide
A photo of a Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), male
Malachite Sunbird, Male

Malachite Sunbird

Nectarinia famosa

The Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia famosa, is a small, nectarivorous bird adorned with a dazzling metallic green plumage during the breeding season. Males are particularly striking with their long central tail feathers, reaching a length of 25 cm, while females are more modest at 15 cm with a shorter tail. The male's non-breeding plumage is a more subdued brown with green wings and tail, the latter retaining its elongated feathers. Females have brown upperparts and dull yellow underparts, with a square-ended tail and juvenile birds resembling the female.

Identification Tips

In breeding plumage, the male Malachite Sunbird is unmistakable with its iridescent green body and elongated tail feathers. The wings are blackish-green with small yellow pectoral patches. Females and non-breeding males can be identified by their yellow underparts, flecked with green, and the characteristic down-curved bill and brush-tipped tubular tongue of sunbirds.


The Malachite Sunbird is found in a variety of habitats including hilly fynbos, protea stands, aloes, montane and coastal scrub, and even urban parks and gardens. It thrives up to 2,800m altitude in South Africa and is known to move to lower elevations during winter.


This species ranges from the highlands of Ethiopia, southwards to South Africa, with subspecies N. f. famosa mainly in South Africa, Lesotho, western Eswatini, southern Namibia, and Zimbabwe, and N. f. cupreonitens in the highlands from Ethiopia to northern Mozambique.


The Malachite Sunbird is monogamous and territorial, especially when nesting. It can be aggressive in defending its territory but becomes highly gregarious outside the breeding season, forming flocks of over a thousand birds. It feeds mainly on nectar but will also consume insects, particularly when feeding young.

Song & Calls

The call of the Malachite Sunbird is a loud 'tseep-tseep'. The male's song is a twittering melody, often performed with an upward head point and display of yellow pectoral tufts. Males also engage in an elaborate display flight and have been observed displaying their pectoral tufts throughout the night, possibly as a predator deterrent.


The Malachite Sunbird is known to be double-brooded, with the female incubating one to three greenish eggs, blotched with dark marks, for two weeks. Both parents feed the chicks, which return to the nest to roost for a time after fledging. The species may be parasitized by Klaas's Cuckoo or Red-chested Cuckoo.

Similar Species

The Malachite Sunbird can be confused with other sunbird species, but its size, long tail feathers in males, and distinctive breeding plumage set it apart. The Green Sugarbird is also similar but belongs to a different genus.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of nectar from a variety of flowering plants, particularly those with long corolla tubes such as aloes and proteas. It also consumes insects, adopting a flycatcher-like hunting technique from a perch.

Conservation Status

The Malachite Sunbird is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN, indicating a stable population without significant threats at present.

Malachite Sunbird Sounds

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