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Introducing the Purple Throated or Van Hasselt’s Sunbird

Over 130 species of tiny, colorful sunbirds are distributed across Africa, southern Asia and northern Australia.  They are, in many ways, the ecological equivalents of the hummingbirds and honey-creepers, and are just as brilliantly colored.  I have worked with several species, none of which I would describe as “hearty”, but all of which I find irresistible.

Sunbirds should only be kept by aviculturists who are well-experienced with other delicate tropical birds.  I consider them to be nearly as demanding as hummingbirds in their dietary requirements, and far more delicate in terms of stress tolerance.

Today I would like to introduce the Van Hasselt’s sunbird, Nectarinia (Cinnyris) sperata, a species that, while not commonly available, has been captive bred for some time now.


At a mere 4 inches in length, Van Hasselt’s sunbird is one of Asia’s smallest species, and arguably among the most beautifully colored.  Males sport a purple-blue gloss to their black backs, iridescent gold-green napes and foreheads and amethyst throats.  Females are olive-green with yellow under parts.


Despite their tiny size, these brilliant little birds require a great deal of room.  If breeding is desired, the pair should be housed in a densely planted outdoor aviary if at all possible.  They have been bred indoors, but usually when at liberty in a sun room equipped with live plants.  They will not accept artificial nest boxes, and must in stead be provided with fine grass, bark and moss.

Feeding Sunbirds

A high quality hummingbird nectar mix  can provide the bulk of the diet, with lorikeet nectar  being provided for variety as well.

Sunbirds will not thrive, and certainly will not be able to rear their young, unless provided with large quantities of tiny, flying insects.  Fruit flies, either bred or attracted to outdoor aviaries, can form the bulk of their insect-based food.  Tiny moths are also readily accepted.  Most individuals will attempt to take tiny, newly molted (white) mealworms and waxworms, but their thin bills are not well suited for this “rough” fare.  Birds housed outdoors (in warm, protected locations) invariably fare better than those kept indoors, partially due to the greater variety of insects available to them.

Although not for everyone, these tropical gems are well worth consideration if you are prepared to meet their demands.

Further Reading

You can read more about this and all related sunbirds at http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMFindResults.asp&hdnAction=SEARCH&hdnPageMode=0&cboFamily=180&txtGenus=&txtSpecies=&txtCommonName=&cboRegion=-2&cboCountry=-2.



Image referenced from Wikipedia and orignally posted by snowmanradio.


  1. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the article on the Purple Throat and Sunbird in general.

    Would you be so kind to point to where i can look up more information about the diet of these wonders of joy. I have collected quite a varieties, but have not had much success in formulating the most appropriate diet for them. It has been a hit and miss experience.

    Your pointers or advice is greatly appreciated.

    thank you in advance for your time.


  2. avatar

    Hi Rex,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much available on their diet. Those I’ve had at the Bronx Zoo did best in large planted aviaries that had large populations of fruit flies, moths, midges and other small flying insects. We also used light traps to catch midges, gnats and similar insects which were released in the exhibits. These seemed important to their well being. Commercial humming bird nectar was readily accepted, and some would also drink “shake” made of papaya and other tropical fruits, peach and pear nectar, and protein powder. I’ll look into American Zoo Assn. papers to see if anything else is available. Enjoy, best, frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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