Fire-tailed Sunbird

Fire-tailed Sunbird
Fire-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga ignicauda ignicauda, male assuming breeding plumage, Baihualing, Gaoligong Mountains, Yunnan, China, elev. 1990 m (6,530 ft.), February. (Craig Brelsford)

Fire-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga ignicauda is mainly Himalayan resident, with nominate in southern Tibet, western Sichuan, and western Yunnan. HABITAT In summer to 4000 m (13,120 ft.), breeding in rhododendron bushes to tree line. Retreats to valleys in winter. ID & COMPARISON Male unmistakable, easily distinguished by the two elongated, scarlet-orange tail feathers that are as long as rest of body, which is itself larger than other Aethopyga sunbirds in China. The male sunbird most resembling male Fire-tailed is Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird A. gouldiae, but Mrs. Gould’s is noticeably smaller and has a blue tail. Nape and mantle scarlet, crown metallic blue, and lores and head-sides black. Throat purple, wings brownish-olive. Breast yellow with fire-orange glow on upper breast. Belly pale yellowish. Female has much shorter tail and has typical pattern (mainly olive-green above, yellower below, with a greyish hood) of females in its genus, but orange tinge to tail is unique. Female most closely resembles female Green-tailed Sunbird A. nipalensis, but has orangeish, almost square tail, not white-tipped, olive, and tapering like Green-tailed. Male eclipse like female but with scarlet-orange tail, brighter yellow rump, and often orange wash on upper breast. BARE PARTS Bill, feet black. VOICE Rapid, tuneless twitter. — Craig Brelsford

THE SUNBIRDS OF CHINA has research on all 13 species in the family Nectariniidae in China. Click any link below:

Ruby-cheeked Sunbird Chalcoparia singalensis
Brown-throated Sunbird Anthreptes malacensis
Purple Sunbird Cinnyris asiaticus
Olive-backed Sunbird C. jugularis
Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird Aethopyga gouldiae
Green-tailed Sunbird A. nipalensis
Fork-tailed Sunbird A. christinae
Black-throated Sunbird A. saturata
Crimson Sunbird A. siparaja
Fire-tailed Sunbird A. ignicauda
Purple-naped Sunbird Kurochkinegramma hypogrammicum
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra
Streaked Spiderhunter A. magna


Daniel Bengtsson served as chief ornithological consultant for Craig Brelsford’s Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of China, from which this species description is drawn.

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