Bird Watching

On the breeding of Purple Sunbird

On the breeding of Purple Sunbird
By : Ajay Gadikar
Pleased to share with all readers a detailed observation on the breeding cycle of the purple sunbird (Cinnyris asiaticus) as seen from my balcony.
On 12th Feb 2015, I observed a female purple sunbird with some nesting material in her beak, immediately I understood that she must be constructing a nest in the vicinity.   Within seconds, she perched on a twig and stated to tie down the two branches of a climber tree.  Looking from my window, I was overjoyed to see a sunbird nesting so close to my window.  I decided to note down the daily routine of the sunbird in my diary and record  observations thru a handy cam so that I can study the different aspects of the breeding cycle of the purple sunbird. That day she brought more nesting material and started to prepare a nest. 

I am sharing the whole observation in nutshell and will encourage all the bird watchers to document their bird sightings and observations in a notebook or on ebird website.

Male Sunbird sucking nectar from a flower

12th Feb (Day 1.) The first day of my observation. Twigs tied down and nesting material brought in very frequently.
13th Feb (Day 2.) The nest was now a long elongated structure. Saw her actually stitching the loose threads brought by her.
14th Feb (Day 3.) Further additions to the structure.
15th Feb (Day 4.) Now she started to give it a hollow pear shape, with an entry gate. A round circular entrance clearly visible.
16th Feb (Day 5.) She was going inside from the entry point and indulge more in preparing the inside structure. Unfortunately the nest opening was on opposite side when I looked from my window.
17th Feb (Day 6.) She was mostly bringing the cotton like soft material and putting it inside the nest.
18th Feb (Day 7.) Bringing more soft material and giving it the final shape.
19th Feb (Day 8.) Today she brought mostly soft material and put it inside the nest.
20th Feb (Day 9.) The nest has taken the complete shape. She took approximately 8 days to complete the nest.
21st Feb (Day 10.)  Male was seen first time clinging to the nest and peeping inside.
22nd Feb to 24th Feb.  (Day 11 to Day 13.) Out of station, so no observation.
25th Feb (Day 14.) Female was seen coming to the nest and sitting in the nest with her beak and face facing outwards. It means she must have laid the eggs. The Male remains near to the nest and also visited the nest, whenever he visits the nest he never goes inside but did cling to the nest many times in the day to peep inside.
26th Feb (Day 15.) Today ashy prinia, tailor bird and red vented bulbul visited near the nest.
27th Feb (Day 16.) The female occupied the nest for longer periods 5 to 10 min. Examples of her timings of entering and leaving the nest were 07:39 – 07:44, 07:55 - 08:04. 
28th Feb (Day 17) - The Male and female are foraging near the nest together. The female seems to remain inside the nest for a period of more than ten minutes. The male checks the nest from backside by peeping his beak through the structure.
1st march to 7th march (Day 18 to Day 24) - The female seems to be incubating the eggs, she now sits for quite long intervals inside the nest. The male also remains close by always.
8th of March (Day 25) - I carefully put a stair case and peep inside the nest and saw that it was 2 eggs of milky white colour lying deep inside.
9th March (Day 26) – Today she was seen feeding, although could not confirm as it was for very short durations.
10th March (Day 27) – Today it was clear that the female has actually ben feeding  the chick. I got recordings of the full day.

Female sunbird feeding its chicks

11th March (Day 28) – The female was seen removing the remains of the egg from the nest in the morning.  Now the feeding was very regular although with at least half an hour intervals. The female comes to the nest feeds some liquid (nectar) brought by her then sits inside, seems to adjust inside.
12th March (Day 29) – Yesterday night it rained slightly with high wind speed with lot of thunderstorms, but was very pleased to see the nest intact.  The male also come and feed the chicks.

Male sunbird feeding the chicks

13th March (Day 30) - It rained today as well, today the rain was more severe in the evening,  the female is seen coming and feeding the chicks regularly in morning and afternoon and in the evening when the rain was heavy she was seen sitting inside the nest.
A Shikra was calling from a tree nearby, when she was sitting inside the nest, she got very alert by the Shikra call.
14th March (Day 31) Again it rained in morning, she was seen inside the nest till 7:30 Am. As the rain ceases today she was seen near the nest but not feeding  her chicks as usual, instead I watched her sitting beside her nest and checking the nest from outside (left side) and also from upside from where the nest was tied on the twigs. I could not make out anything of this behaviour, then I left for the office, later my son who was at home told me in evening that she did come once or twice but did not feed the chicks, I become worried and was thinking why it is so, as soon as I reached home at around 8:00 Pm, I checked the nest from below by a torch, I didn’t find the female inside the nest, a wrong signal, the fate of the family might have sealed by the rain, still we all keep our hopes alive that tomorrow morning she will return to nest and feed the chicks. 
15th March (Day 32) the usual chirping of the both male and female sunbird was heard, but they were not coming to the nest rather were occupied with their regular feeding activities. Today only once the male was seen visiting the nest temporarily and peeping inside the nest, else they have not at all visited the nest. In the evening a climb thru a ladder up to the nest and tried to investigate the scenario, inside the delicate bodies of the sunbird babies were lying without any life in them, one was a little bigger with his beak visible and second slightly smaller. It was very disheartening to see that, as I told my son and wife they also feel very bad about it.
The untimely and excessive rains has taken its toll on the sunbird family. This seems to be the primary reason for the death of the chicks.
The other two probable reasons of the death of the chicks could be the non-availability of food (nectar) for the chicks, as due to rains all the buds and flowers from the nearby flowing plants and trees had fallen down and the amount of food required could not have been available for the chicks and secondly the cold weather that persisted for longer period than usual could be the other reason, as during march it hots up quite a lot which may provide the convenient temperature for providing the required warmth to the babies. 
A new Beginning
17th March. Today a new chapter has started. The female sunbird was seen picking up the nesting material from the old nest and taking it away, soon I found the location of the new nest site. She has started to build the new nest in nearby vicinity approx. 15 meters from her earlier nest. The same phenomenon of building the nest has started and my regular observation of her behaviour also started. I hope this time she should be able to rear up the chicks and complete the breeding process.
22nd March. Today the new nest has taken its shape, this one comes up faster than the earlier may be because most of the material was taken from the earlier nest side which saved her time and energy in search of the nesting material and she was able to build the nest faster.
18th April 2015. The same cycle has been completed and this time the Male and Female purple sunbird has successfully fledged their chicks in the open sky..

Chicks waiting to be fed

During the study of this sunbird breeding I learnt a lot of behavioural aspects of sunbird.
Happy Birding. 
Ajay Gadika

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