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What are these small birds in the Philippines that can hover like hummingbirds? They had yellow throats/necks, chests, bellies, slightly curved beaks, and brown backs and heads. They were only slightly bigger than a human thumb. They are not commonly spotted in the area where these pictures were taken.

I searched online and found a Wikipedia article about the yellow-bellied whistler AKA Philippine whistler (Pachycephala philippinensis), a bird that looks similar and is endemic to the Philippines. However, the picture in the article showed a bird with a straight beak and no yellow throat. So I’m not sure if these birds are the same species or not.

These photos were taken on May 28, 2023, in a rural backyard located in Western Visayas, Philippines. The area is abundant with plants and trees. Due to the proximity of a typhoon, the weather was cloudy and windy, and it started raining shortly after these photos were taken. The birds seemed to be a couple, playing and hovering around a guyabano tree.

Photos of the birds hovering:

photo of the birds described above

Photos of the birds perched on a tree branch — there are two birds in each of the following three photos:

(Click/tap on an image thumbnail below to view the higher-resolution, original image.)

photo of the two birds described abovephoto of the two birds described above

photo of the two birds described above

Cropped photos of the birds perched on a tree branch:

Click/tap on an image thumbnail below to view the higher-resolution, original image.

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  • 4
    Maybe you can take away some of the photos, especially the second section does seem to have a lot of repeats.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 28, 2023 at 16:02
  • @Willeke I’ve converted some of the images into image thumbnails that link to their higher-resolution original versions to significantly reduce the amount of space they occupy on the screen. I think I should include those photos in the post and not remove any more, so the birds can be seen from multiple views. Commented May 29, 2023 at 5:16

2 Answers 2

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Looks like it is a female or possibly juvenile olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis, now known as the Garden Sunbird as of late 2023), based on pictures on the web. I ID'd it by searching "birds phillipines" in google and flicking through a couple of links. The distinguishing characteristics are the curved beak, olive-green back and the small pale bar over the eyes.

This is a common species of bird throughout SE Asia and even into Australia.

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Since no one has confirmed an ID, I will confirm a species

This bird is definitely of the genus Cinnyris. And from there we can determine the correct species.

This bird is not an olive-backed sunbird, but rather a Female Garden Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis)

The olive-backed-sunbird is actually not a singular species, but a reference to multiple species:

  • Ornate Sunbird - Cinnyris ornatus
  • Tukangbesi Sunbird - Cinnyris infrenatus
  • Sahul Sunbird - Cinnyris frenatus
  • Garden Sunbird - Cinnyris jugularis
  • Palawan Sunbird - Cinnyris aurora
  • South Moluccan Sunbird - Cinnyris clementiae
  • Flores Sea Sunbird - Cinnyris teysmanni
  • Mamberamo Sunbird - Cinnyris idenburgi

As of now the Olive backed Sunbird is typically known as The Garden sunbird. However to prevent confusion please use the scientific names or simply Garden Sunbird. The term Olive Backed Sunbird is now standard and non-existent

Differentiation Between Species

Before I continue, please note that the species olive-backed-sunbird is non-exisitant and may refer to around ten different species or as a family/genus

Instead the real differentiation is whether this is a Garden Sunbird or an Ornate Sunbird

Let's review what is known:

1) The Garden Sunbird

Tiny and active sunbird of forest edges, parks, and gardens. Endemic to the Philippines (excluding Palawan). Both sexes have a plain olive back, a yellow belly, and white tail edges that are flared out in flight. The male flashes an iridescent blue throat while the female has a yellow throat and eyebrow. Gives a fast, jumbled series of rising whistles and squeaks. Frequently-heard call, a rising “dweet”, is a familiar sound even in cities. Formerly grouped with other, closely related species under “Olive-backed Sunbird.”
Source: https://ebird.org

This bird is very hard to see and is only spotted in the Phillipines, it has less than 1000 verified records across databases

2) The Ornate Sunbird

Tiny and active sunbird of forest edges, parks, and gardens; the most common urban sunbird throughout most of its expansive distribution; ranges from Andaman and Nicobar Islands to Lesser Sundas. Both sexes have a plain olive back, a yellow belly, and white tail edges that are flared out in flight. The male flashes an iridescent blue throat while the female has a yellow throat and eyebrow. Female Brown-throated Sunbird also has a yellow belly, but it is larger with a thicker bill and lacks the white tail patches of Ornate. Gives a rising “dwee”, a familiar sound even in cities. Formerly grouped with other, closely related species under “Olive-backed Sunbird.”
Source: https://ebird.org

The Ornate Sunbird is much easier to see with over 10,000 verified observations across databases

The Solution

The two birds are incredibly hard to tell apart. But there is a trick. The answer is this:

The Ornate Sunbird is NEVER seen in the Philippines. Never has been.

The Garden Sunbird is ONLY seen in the Philippines. Rarely is it seen outside the Philippines. If ever.

Therefore, we can conclude that this is the Garden Sunbird. And obtain a reminder that location is sometimes the only way to identify a species.

Here is a picture of a Garden Sunbird (Female): enter image description here

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  • Out of curiosity - could you please edit your post with some information that tells us what is the differentiation between the two species and why you think this is the ornate rather than the olive/garden?
    – bob1
    Commented Apr 20 at 21:06
  • @bob1 I owe you a massive apology. I mis-led you with false information. I also managed to swap the two names, and effectively ruin my whole answer. Please forgive me. Please re-read my answer, and you will better understand why I messed up. It gets really confusing. This bird is neither a olive-backed-sunbird or a ornate sunbird but a garden sunbird. I appreciate it that you forced me to revise my answer and therefore helped catch my critical error. Thank you for your support!
    – Arrow
    Commented Apr 21 at 0:17
  • I also request that you delete/revise your answer. As it may be misleading. Thank you! And sorry again.
    – Arrow
    Commented Apr 21 at 0:18
  • I see that the wikipedia page was only updated to garden sunbird in Nov 2023 and the link directs correctly, as well as has the correct species. My answer was from May 2023, so was correct at time of writing. I'll update with "now known as...". Should The term Garden Backed Sunbird is now standard and non-existent be Olive-backed rather than Garden?
    – bob1
    Commented Apr 21 at 0:36
  • I will give it to you, thank you for your revision! Although scientists and naturalists should make it a point to not give species "two names". Because species identified as olive-backed-sunbird before Nov of 2023 would be changed to garden sunbird unfortunately resulting in a large loss of data. Also, Olive-backed sunbird could just have easily been changed to Ornate Sunbird but for its prevalence. On a sidenote: Thank you for finding that mistake, as I said earlier, it is a little confusing
    – Arrow
    Commented Apr 21 at 1:17

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