The two lookalike ‘double-collared’ sunbirds found throughout the eastern and southern parts of Southern Africa are far easier to tell apart than most amateur birders believe.
For a start habitat preference is a useful indication with the Southern Double-collared Sunbird (previously known as the Lesser Double-collared Sunbird) favouring the ‘fynbos’ environment along the southern coastal belt of relatively low erica and protea vegetation as well as trees and shrubs in sheltered kloofs and valleys.
Greater Double-collared Sunbirds favour areas of higher rainfall and indigenous forest environments extending along the eastern Drakensberg Mountains with an arboreal preference associated with taller vegetation and strikingly colourful flower types such as tree fuchias and aloes.
The scarlet breast bands differ noticeably in width with the greater sporting a classic ‘one penny’ red postage stamp size breast band compared to the ‘finger width’ of the lesser’s breast band.
More subtly, the bill of the greater is longer than that of the lesser, and the iridescent plumage on the head and mantle is more of an electric blue/green compared to the emerald colouration of the lesser, while the male resembles the female with only a subtle hint of red on the breast to differentiate the sexes in the non-breeding season.
So, there you have it as the key ID features to look for in double-collared sunbirds…