Family Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)

Least Concern

Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)


French: Souimanga à ventre jaune German: Ziernektarvogel Spanish: Suimanga variable

Certhia venusta


, 1799,

Sierra Leone


Races form three groups, differing in plumage (especially abdomen colour). Moreover, in extreme S of range, two ecologically segregated populations of falkensteini appear to be undergoing a process of differentiation that could ultimately result in full speciation#R. Other proposed races include blicki (described from S shore of L Stefanie, in SW Ethiopia), synonymized with albiventris, and sukensis (from R Turkwell, in N Kenya), merged with fazoqlensis; kuanzae (Malanje, in N Angola), niassae (Malawi), cyanescens (Zanzibar) and stierlingi (Uhehe, in S Tanzania) are all treated as synonyms of falkensteini. Five subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. v. venustus (Shaw, 1799) – Yellow-bellied Sunbird – Senegal, Gambia and Sierra Leone E to Nigeria, N Cameroon and Central African Republic.
  • C. v. fazoqlensis (Heuglin, 1874) – #RSE Sudan, E South Sudan, Eritrea, N & W Ethiopia and NW Kenya.
  • C. v. falkensteini G. A. Fischer & Reichenow, 1884 – SE South Sudan S to W & S Kenya, and from S Gabon and W Angola E to S DRCongo, Tanzania (including Pemba I and Zanzibar), Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and C Mozambique.
  • C. v. igneiventris Reichenow, 1899 – Orange-chested Sunbird – E DRCongo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
  • C. v. albiventris (Strickland, 1852) – White-bellied Sunbird – E & S Ethiopia, Somalia and NE Kenya.
  • Descriptive notes

    10–11 cm; 5–10 g. Male nominate race has front half of crown metallic purple, lores black, rest of crown, ear-coverts, throat, neck and upperparts, including... read more


    Song consists of repetitions of a sequence of 3–4 “te-tch-weee” notes followed by... read more


    Thornbush savanna, brachystegia (Brachystegia) woodland, forest, forest edge, wooded... read more

    Food and feeding

    Nectar, insects, and spiders (Araneae). Forages singly, in pairs and in small groups; joins mixed-species flocks. Visits variety of flowers... read more


    Laying recorded in Mar in Gambia, Oct in Sierra Leone, Dec in Liberia, Jul in Togo, Oct–Jan in Nigeria, Nov–Jan Sudan, Jun in... read more


    Variously resident, nomadic and migratory, but movements unclear. Ascends to higher altitudes... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common over most of its geographical range; rare in extreme S. Occurs in a number of protected areas in most parts of range.

    Recommended citation

    Cheke, R. & Mann, C. (2019). Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus). 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).