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The Palestine Sunbird

By Rana Hijaw

The plumage of a breeding male Palestine sunbird is primarily dark but appears glossy blue or green in the light. Orange tufts appear during the breeding season.

The Palestine sunbird was declared the national bird of Palestine in 2015 after the Israeli occupation authorities tried to change its name in their efforts to erase Palestinian identity.

The male Palestine sunbird, with bold metallic blue colors, is a real flying gem.

The female Palestine sunbird is grey-brown with a black tail, giving it better camouflage.

Sunbirds are among the smallest birds in the country, ranging from 8 to 12 cm in length. They are brightly colored, with curved beaks and tubular tongues. The males’ distinctive bold, metallic blue-green colors on their heads, backs, chests, and bellies serve to attract mates, while the females and juveniles appear grey-brown, allowing them to blend into their surroundings. During the breeding season, from June to October, bright yellow and orange tufts under the males’ wings appear as a scorching flame.

The Palestine sunbird has a curved beak along with a tubular brush-like tongue, allowing it to acquire nectar from flowers.

The Palestine sunbird, also known as the orange-tufted sunbird, hides bright feathers under its wings that appear as a flame during the breeding season.

The Palestine sunbird’s downward-curving beak and long tongue whose tip resembles a brush are adapted to obtain nectar from flowers. While sunbirds feed mostly on nectar, invertebrates such as insects and spiders are an important part of their diet as well. By catching herbivorous insects and arthropods that can harm crops, sunbirds thus can help reduce the use of pesticides and aid in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Sunbirds also serve as pollinators.

Most sunbirds feed largely on nectar but can also eat insects and spiders, especially when feeding their young.

A sunbird courtship display on a Ramallah balcony, the male showing off its flaming orange and yellow plumage.

A male Palestine sunbird feeding its grey-brown juveniles.

A female Palestine sunbird features less distinctive markings that let it blend into the surroundings while nesting or protecting young birds.

A juvenile male Palestine sunbird molting (shedding old feathers) to make room for new iridescent breeding plumage. At this stage, it has dark areas broken up by brown and metallic blue feathers.

Many people mistake sunbirds for hummingbirds. But while some features are similar, a phenomenon known as convergent evolution, these birds are not closely related. The resemblance lies in the fact that both birds are small, often colorful and very active, and feed mainly on nectar. However, a major difference is that sunbirds feed while perching, which means that they rest on a branch or a flower to acquire food, whereas hummingbirds usually feed while hovering. Moreover, sunbirds are songbirds, whereas hummingbirds are in the same order of classification as swifts. Sunbirds are found in Africa and Asia, while hummingbirds are restricted to the Americas. In Palestine, the sunbird is a very common resident bird that can be found in both city and village.

A male Palestine sunbird taking a break, its face covered in pollen after visiting neighborhood flowers, its tongue showing.

A female Palestine sunbird on an olive tree.

The Palestine sunbird not only carries the country’s name but also symbolizes Palestinian natural heritage. Wildlife societies in Palestine and independent researchers have done a great job in raising awareness of the existence of this marvelous bird by creating or participating in competitions that aim to document and honor the Palestine sunbird. Although birding, writing, or painting can be seen as simple means of expression, they are, in fact, very powerful in confronting any force that tries to erase our existence. Palestinian poet Tamim Al-Barghouti tied resistance to beauty, saying, “Whenever you face injustice or roughness, remember to defend yourself by finding beauty … document, prove, and defend it because all beauty is resistance.”

Rana Hijawi is a biology graduate who is passionate about science and research. You can visit her
Instagram page

1 Comment

  1. turlough

    Excellent piece on an intrinsic part of Palestine.
    Its flora and fauna may be getting destroyed by the bulldozers of the occupying forces and planters,however the people and their place on this earth will never be destroyed ,even with their oppressors ‘best efforts’ to achieve this .Let there be justice and peace for Palestine,and her people,and the creatures put there by the almighty.


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