Like the hummingbirds of the Americas, Africa’s sunbirds and sugarbirds are specialised nectarivores (feeding primarily on nectar produced by flowers), but supplement their diet with some protein by eating small insects, especially when feeding their chicks. Both sunbirds and sugarbirds are incredibly well adapted to collect the energy-rich nectar from flowers and in doing so, usually pollinate the obliging flower. However, sunbirds and sugarbirds have developed slightly different ways to collect the nectar. Both sunbirds and sugarbirds have long, thin bills that enable them to reach deeply into a trumpet-shaped flower to get to the sweet nectar right at the back of the flower. Their tongues are even longer than their bills, and in the case of sunbirds, the sides of their tongue roles up to form a tube through which the nectar can be sucked up using capillary action. A sugarbird’s tongue, however, has a fine brush on the tip used to lap up the nectar.
Many flowers make use of these birds as sole pollinators, enticing them with the reward of nectar. In the process pollen is dabbed on the bird’s forehead. When the bird drinks nectar from the next flower, the pollen is brushed off onto the flower’s stigma and the flower is pollinated. Both types of birds are especially fond of the colours red, orange and dark pink, and therefore most bird-pollinated flowers are red in colour.
There are at least six different species of sunbird as well as the iconic Cape Sugarbird in the Garden Route. The sunbirds, in particularly the males, are usually superbly colourful with iridescent blue, green, red and purple feathers. Attract some of these gorgeous birds to your garden by planting the nectar-providing flowers that supply them with the energy they need for survival. This list of indigenous plants (bulbs, succulents, shrubs and trees) will provide nectar-rich flowers to attract sunbirds and sugarbirds to your garden.
Caption: A Greater Double-collared Sunbird on Cadaba aphilla (Swartstorm/Black Storm).
- Chasmanthe floribunda (Cobra Lily/Kapelpypie)
- Clivia gardenii (Drooping Clivia/Boslelie)
- Kniphofia praecox (Red-Hot-Poker/Vuurpyl), Kniphofia uvaria (Wild Red-Hot-Poker/Wilde Vuurpyl)
- Veltheimia bracteata (Forest Lily/Sandlelie)
- Watsonia angusta (red flowers), Watsonia meriana (pink or orange flowers), Watsonia pillansii (orange or red flowers), Watsonia schlechteri (orange or red flowers)
- Aloe africana (Uitenhage Aloe/Uitenhaagaalwyn), Aloe arborescens (Krantz Aloe/Kransaalwyn), Aloe ferox (Bitter Aloe/Bitteraalwyn), Aloe maculata (Soap Aloe/Bontaalwyn), Aloe striata (Coral Aloe/Blouaalwyn)
- Cotyledon orbiculata (Pig’s Ears/Plakkie)
- Gonialoe variegata (Kanniedood)
- Alberta magna (Flamebush/Breekhout)
- Burchellia bubalina (Wild Pomegranate/Wildegranaat)
- Erica densifolia (Sticky Pink Heath/Taaiblomheide), Erica discolor (Two-colourd Heath/Tweekleurige Heide), Erica glandulosa (Pink Heath/Pienk Heide), Erica versicolor (Many-coloured Heath/Veelkleurige Heide)
- Leonotis leonurus (Wild Dagga/Wildedagga)
- Lessertia frutescens (Cancer Bush/Kankerbos)
- Lycium oxycarpum (Cape Honeythorn /Heuningbos)
- Protea compacta (Bot River Sugarbush/Botriviersuikerbos), Protea eximia (Broad-leaved Sugarbush/Breëblaarsuikerbos), Protea magnifica (Queen Protea/Koninginprotea), Protea neriifolia (Oleander-leaf Sugarbush/Swartbaardsuikerbos), Protea repens (Honey Sugarbush/Opregte Suikerbos)
- Strelitzia reginae (Crane Flower/Kraanvoëlblom)
- Tecomaria capensis (Cape Honeysuckle/Kaapse kanferfoelie)
- Aloidendron barberae (Tree Aloe/Boomaalwyn)
- Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral Tree/Kleinkoraalboom), Erythrina lysistemon (True Coral Tree/Opregte Koraalboom)
- Halleria lucida (Tree Fuchsia/Notsung)
- Schotia afra (Karoo boer-bean/Karooboerboon), Schotia brachypetala (Weeping Boer-bean/Huilboerboon)
- Strelitzia nicolai (Natal Wild Banana/Natalse Wildepiesang)