The Cape Sugarbird

December 1, 2017


The Cape Sugarbird is a common sight, seen fluttering above the Fynbos of Gondwana Game Reserve. Not only does this bird signify one of the Magnificent 8 birds in this region (which are sought after by bird watchers across the world) but it also has many interesting characteristics.

The sugarbirds are easily recognizable by a spot of yellow under their tail and the very long tail feathers present in males. The male is 34–44 cm long, and the shorter-tailed, shorter-billed, and paler breasted female 25–29 cm long. The males have an impressive flight display flying up 9-16m into the air and whipping the tail up and down.


They are locally common and move around in response to food availability. They are strongly dependent on protea nectar and can visit up to 300 flowers to meet their energy needs. This makes them the most effective pollinator of proteas more so than the sunbirds. There have been records of the sugarbirds probing colourful pegs on washing lines in the hope of accessing some nectar! They also catch large invertebrates often killing them with a quick sideways slap against a branch.

They pair up for life and aggressively defend their territory. Although they will tolerate some birds in their “turf”, they strongly repel the common fiscal and the southern boubou shrike. There has been a record of the male knocking out a Fiscal shrike.

The female can usually be found building her cup shaped nest in the protea thicket where 1-2 eggs are laid. Most of the breeding takes place in winter closely correlated with the flowering proteas.

Text: Nadine Clarke