Family Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)

Least Concern

Olive Sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea)


French: Souimanga olivâtre German: Olivnektarvogel Spanish: Suimanga oliváceo
Other common names: Eastern Olive Sunbird (olivacea), Western Olive Sunbird (obscura)

Cinnyris olivaceus

A. Smith

, 1840,

Kafirland eastward toward Port Natal = Durban, South Africa


Commonly treated (including in HBW) as two species, C. olivacea (with races changamwensis, neglecta, alfredi and olivacina) and C. obscura (with races guineensis, cephaelis, ragazzii, granti and sclateri), but key claim that “the two differ in vocalizations” (HBW) not upheld in analysis here#R; moreover, mtDNA evidence supports conspecificity#R and differences in plumage relatively minor. Races guineensis and cephaelis intergrade in Ghana–Togo region. Additional proposed races are chyulu (described from Chyulu Mts, in S Kenya), which is merged with neglecta; puguensis (Mafia I, off N Tanzania), synonymized with changamwensis; intercalans (Fort Jameson, in Eastern Province of Zambia), included in alfredi; daviesi (Pondoland, in coastal E South Africa), considered indistinguishable from nominate; and vincenti (from Kapenguria, in W Kenya) and lowei (from R Kafulafuta, in W Zambia), insufficiently distinct from ragazzii. Name pembae is a junior synonym of granti. Eleven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. o. guineensis Bannerman, 1921 – Senegal E to Ghana and Togo.
  • C. o. cephaelis (Bates, 1930) – Benin E to Central African Republic, S to N Angola; also Príncipe (in Gulf of Guinea); purportedly this race in Burundi.
  • C. o. obscura (Jardine, 1843) – Bioko.
  • C. o. ragazzii (Salvadori, 1888) – E & SE DRCongo, extreme S South Sudan E to C Ethiopia, Uganda, W Kenya, W Tanzania, Zambia and, perhaps, extreme N Malawi#R.
  • C. o. changamwensis Mearns, 1910 – S Somalia and coastal SE Kenya and E Tanzania (inland to Taita, Usambaras, Pugu Hills and S Pare Mts), Zanzibar and Mafia I.
  • C. o. neglecta Neumann, 1900 – SC Kenya S to NE Tanzania.
  • C. o. granti Vincent, 1934 – Pemba I, off NE Tanzania.
  • C. o. alfredi Vincent, 1934 – S Tanzania, E Zambia, Malawi and N Mozambique.
  • C. o. sclateri Vincent, 1934 – E Zimbabwe (Melsetter area) and bordering areas of Mozambique.
  • C. o. olivacina (W. K. H. Peters, 1881) – coastal areas of SE Tanzania, Mozambique and NE South Africa (NE KwaZulu-Natal).
  • C. o. olivacea (A. Smith, 1840) – S KwaZulu-Natal S to NE Eastern Cape (Pondoland), in E South Africa.
  • Descriptive notes

    12–15 cm; male 6·8–15 g, female 6·2–9·5 g. Nominate race is brownish-black on forehead, nape and side of face, faint metallic blue wash... read more


    Song of nominate race a minute-long repetition of rising and falling whistling notes, with... read more


    Forest and clearings, also dense woodland, thickets, coastal scrub, plantations and gardens; to... read more

    Food and feeding

    Takes insects, spiders (Araneae), berries, fruit and nectar. Feeds from flowers of trees (e.g. Erythrina, Jacaranda, ... read more


    Laying recorded in Jun in Kenya, Dec–Jan in Tanzania, Sept–Apr on Zanzibar, Sept–Feb in Malawi, Nov in Mozambique, and... read more


    Mostly sedentary, but strays in search of food; may undertake post-breeding altitudinal movements.... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common in most of range; locally common in Malawi. In South Africa, recorded density of 5–7 pairs/ha in coastal areas of KwaZulu-Natal, but... read more

    Recommended citation

    Cheke, R. & Mann, C. (2019). Olive Sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 19 September 2019).