The Beauty of the Variable Sunbird

Rwanda is the best place in the world to trek to see Silverback Mountain Gorillas and they are indeed thrilling to visit. But for me, equal in thrill factor, is the spectacular bird population of this tiny, but truly fascinating country. 

On the search for African birds

I traveled to Ruhengeri, Rwanda in February of 2019 to visit Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge to seek out and photograph some new and exotic birds. I had been to a few African countries prior, but I knew there would be some more unique birds just waiting for me in Rwanda. On this particular trip, my guide Nelis and I found this gorgeous Variable Sunbird on a perfectly sunny day, reaching into a veritable feast of blossoms with his curved beak.

What makes the Variable Sunbird beautiful 

There are so many things I love about this shot. Let’s start with the sunbird himself. His feathers, exquisite shades ranging from royal blue, to turquoise, then green and yellow are almost iridescent. His beak designed to get into specific difficult places adds surprising interest to his face. I was able to catch the light in his eye with patience. Yes, you can accomplish the same with a flash, but when you do, you are in danger of scaring away the bird. I stood below the tree as he moved through it and came back with a large variety of poses. I like this one the best, in which he is perched on a diagonal, his head pointing to the lower left corner of the frame. Top that with those gorgeous white blossoms and you get the kind of shot that makes my heart sing.

It’s the males that truly stick out 

Mind you, the most colorful birds, as a general rule, tend to be the male. I was drawn to this Variable Sunbird because of its iridescent shine and vibrant color that stood out among the white flowers. However, the drab, brown females are still beautiful in their own way. When they’re paired with a vibrant dark pink blossom, their features, especially their sharp, curved bill, really stand out.

Should you have the chance to visit Rwanda or another African country, make it a priority to see these birds. Sunbirds don’t disappoint and will remain one of my favorite African birds.

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