The Malachite Sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), is a small bird with two subspecies. The nominate N. f. famosa occurs mainly in South Africa, Lesotho and western Swaziland, although its range just extends into southern Namibia and Zimbabwe. N. f. cupreonitens breeds in the highlands from Ethiopia south to northern Mozambique. This large sunbird is found in hilly fynbos, protea and aloe habitat and cool mountain areas and coastal scrub, up to 9,000 feet in altitude in South Africa. It also occurs in parks and gardens. It is resident, but may move downhill in winter. Frequently found nesting in suburban gardens of the Highveld.
The breeding male Malachite Sunbird, which has very long central tail feathers, is 9.8 inches long, and the shorter-tailed female 6 inches. The adult male is metallic green when breeding, with blackish-green wings with small yellow pectoral patches. In non-breeding (eclipse) plumage, the male’s upperparts are brown apart from the green wings and tail, the latter retaining the elongated feathers. The underparts in eclipse plumage are yellow, flecked with green. The female has brown upperparts and dull yellow underparts with some indistinct streaking on the breast. Her tail is square-ended. The juvenile resembles the female.
The sunbirds are a group of very small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young. This sunbird will fly-catch for insect prey. Sunbird flight is fast and direct on short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time. They have long thin down-curved bills and brush-tipped tubular tongues, both adaptations to nectar feeding.
The oval nest is usually suspended, as with most sunbirds, or built in a bush. The female incubates one to three dark-blotched greenish eggs for two weeks. The chicks are fed by both parents until fledging, however they will continue to return to the nest to roost.