Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, Nectarinia johnstoni, photographed on Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Dan Logen, 27 August 2007 [larger view].

Nikon D2X, 70-200 VR Nikon lens, at 200 mm. ISO 200, f/5.6 1/320 sec.

Note the size of the heather that grows on Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Greg Laden
    September 27, 2009

    Nectarinia famosa? Or something close (if in South Africa, that’s what it would be)

  2. #2 hasan
    September 27, 2009

    I think it is the Palestine Sunbird, Cinnyris osea osea

  3. #3 David
    September 27, 2009


    I think you are right however I am not sure if this is the nominate subspecies N. famosa famosa because the greater coverts, as well as the throat, breast, and underparts, should be an emerald color, unless of course that description is only good for a breeding male… perhaps this is non-breeding or simply exemplifies regional variability?

    Unless this happens to be the [databse/field-guide] elusive Fraser’s or Scarlet-tufted Sunbird (Deleornis fraseri/Anthreptes fraseri)?

    Photo of N. famosa taken in South Africa

    Photo of N. famosa taken on Mount Kenya

    Within the species (South Africa) there appears to be quite alot of variability:

    and I’m going to go with Erica excelsa as the heather species featured here somewhere around 3,000m altitude…

  4. #4 David
    September 27, 2009

    Hasan, take a look at the central tail feathers (they are not elongated in the Palestine Sunbird)

  5. #5 David
    September 27, 2009

    OK, final answer… still the Malachite Sunbird but the subspecies Nectarinia famosa cupreonitens, distributed in the highlands of Eritrea, Ethiopia, southern Sudan, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, northern Malawi, and northern Mozambique; whereas N. f. famosa is found more southerly in Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, and western Swaziland.

  6. #6 Adrian
    September 28, 2009

    Is that a small tuft of red on the shoulder? Would this make it Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird? (N. johnstoni).
    This apparently is a common resident on moorlands above 3000m on Kilimanjaro. There also appears to be black on the lower belly another feature of johnstoni.

  7. #7 craig nash
    September 28, 2009

    Adrian I am with you on this twitted this answer yesterday. Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbird (Male)

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    September 28, 2009

    I agree that this is the Scarlettufted Malachite. Well spotted!

  9. #9 David
    September 28, 2009

    Aaarrgghh! Greg, Craig, Adrian… you are right!

    I thought this was where I was going with comment #3 above:

    Unless this happens to be the [databse/field-guide] elusive Fraser’s or Scarlet-tufted Sunbird (Deleornis fraseri/Anthreptes fraseri)?

    but simply couldn’t track down either genus… what seems clear is that in this group of birds (Cinnyris, Nectarinia, Chalcomitra, Cyanomitra, Anabathmis, Anthobaphes, Anthreptes, Hedydipna, and Deleornis) there has been a lot of movement and reclassification in ther taxonomy!

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