Erythrina flowers, sunbirds and the Roberts bird guide


Sunbirds are dependent on nectar-rich red flowers. The curve of this nectivorous bird’s beak fits perfectly into the trumpet-shaped flowers of plants like lion’s ear (Leonotis leonurus), weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala) and aloe species. Birds are interconnected and do not exist in isolation, and it makes sense to add the vegetation and animals they depend on to guidebooks.

Roberts Bird Guide depicts these symbiotic relationships too, and on page 475 of the second edition you will see the grey sunbird (Cyanomitra veroxii) sitting on a common coral tree (Erythrina lysistemon).

“The grey sunbird is just one of the sunbird species in this area that utilises Erythrina nectar,” explains Hugh Chittenden, a trustee of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund since the 1980s. “Without making the guide too congested, we would like to add more plant and flower illustrations.”

Compiling and updating the guide is a mammoth task, and Ingrid Weiersbye draws most of the illustrations. However, the Erythrina flower on page 475 was painted by Chittenden’s father in 1946.

“The artists were overloaded with requests for new illustrations and I didn’t want to burden them with additional artworks,” Chittenden says, and so it made sense to include his father’s painting.

Chittenden’s passion for birding began on his 12th birthday, when he received a first edition of Roberts Bird Guide, published in 1940. The book belonged to his late father.


Written by Georgina Lockwood

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