Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis)

Olive-backed Sunbird

Olive-backed Sunbird

An iconic bird of the Daintree Rainforest is the Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis).  These lovely creatures are found in coastal regions of Tropical North Queensland.  Wherever there is a plentiful supply of flowering plants you’ll find these beautiful little birds darting about feeding on nectar. Frequently we see them on our tour.

Male Olive-backed Sunbird watching a fly
Male Olive-backed Sunbird watching a fly

Adult Olive-backed Sunbirds are primarily nectivorous.  However, they do eat an insect or two especially around breeding season when a little extra protein is helpful.  The young are fed insects by their parents while fledging.

Olive-backed Sunbirds nesting

These tiny birds have a delightful habit of building their nests in and around our homes.  The Olive-backed Sunbird understands that their predators usually avoid places frequented by humans.

Often, we find their swaying pods on our verandas, sheds, from clothes lines, even in our houses.  Large birds like Kookaburras and Butcher-birds prey on the young.  Naturally, snakes are also fond of the baby birds so taking shelter near humans affords the family some protection.

The Nest

Mostly, the nest is an intricate sphere usually suspended from a branch or vine.  Locals often string pieces of rope around their homes for the Sunbirds.  Watching the nesting process up close is a fascinating experience and one we love to encourage.

Olive-backed Sunbird
Olive-backed Sunbird on the veranda

The female is the nest builder.  Over the course of a few weeks she will spend almost every hour of the day collecting materials and meticulously constructing it.  She delicately weaves grasses, lichen, plant matter and spider webs to make a sturdy little ball.  Her design even includes a small veranda over the opening to shield her young from the elements.  The interior of the nest is a fluffy lining of soft plant matter, feathers, even animal hair.

Olive-backed Sunbird in her nest
Olive-backed Sunbird in her nest

During the building process the male is not idle.  He diligently guards his mate every step of the way as she pays close attention to her labours.

Family Working Hard

A sure way to know that Sunbirds are at work is his persistent cheeping and squealing as he warns her of any dangers.  If there are mirrors or windows nearby you will find him facing his reflection sternly warning that “other” male to stay away from his family.

Olive-backed Sunbird
Male Olive-backed Sunbird defending his territory from “another” male.


Sunbirds usually lay a couple of small, pale eggs and both parents diligently tend the nest once the chicks are hatched.  The work is constant as they feed and clean up after their little ones.

Male Sunbird feeding his chick
Male Olive-backed Sunbird feeding his chick

The male and female Olive-backed Sunbird are sexually dimorphic.  It’s easy to spot the male with his iridescent blue bib and yellow belly.  The female Olive-backed Sunbird has an olive back and is completely golden underneath.  They both have a slender curved beak and a long thread-like tongue.

Olive-backed Sunbird female
Olive-backed Sunbird female




3 thoughts on “Olive-backed Sunbird (Nectarina jugularis)

  1. Lyn Forrest says:

    I can imagine the pleasure that the Tourists get from viewing the sunbirds and watching them build their nests.
    We have had a few build at our place in Emu Park.
    I have a question that I wondered if you could answer.
    A pair of Sunbirds built their nest under the pergola, outside our kitchen window. The baby (only one) left the nest.
    We now have a female sunbird that stays in the nest every night. Would it be the same one that built the nest, or could it be another one going to use it to lay her eggs? She has been in the nest every night for about 2 weeks. We haven’t seen a male sunbird around with this female.
    Do you know if they use another sunbirds nest?

  2. Lynda Carter says:

    So pleased I found your question Lyn. I also have a similar situation. Our sunbirds recently successfully raised and fledged two chicks (although it did mean I had to get up at 5:30 every morning to keep the kurrawong’s away). They have been gone from the nest for about a week now and I have been visited again today by a pair who are very interested in the nest, the male is showing defensive behaviour and the female inspected the nest and climbed inside. So, I would also like to know if another pair would use the nest or if this could be the oringinal pair returning for another shot. I am living on Magnetic Island, Queensland.

    • Annemaree Haley says:

      Hi Lynda, it would be the same pair. And we know what you mean about dealing with the predatory birds. We had a pair of Sunbirds who would come to our window and screech loudly every time a Kookaburra was eyeing off their nest. We got a lot of extra exercise that week.

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