HUMMINGBIRDS

hummingbirdIn September I spent two weeks birdwatching in Peru. With its neighbour Colombia it is one of the two countries with the world’s biggest bird-list with over 1900 species. In comparison, the British list has just risen to 618. Peru is blessed with such ornithological riches because of its very diverse range of habitats ranging from the Pacific coast to the high Andes and to the Amazon.Coastal beaches and mudflats, humid lowland forests, river-edge and mangrove forests, montane forests, scrub, dry or semi-dry plains called puna, marshes, elfin forests and lakes and ponds support a huge variety of bird-life.

One of the families of birds that is widely observed is the Trochillidae, the Hummingbirds. Of the 338 species in existence 120 are found in Peru of which we saw 50. They are birds of the Americas but with only 18 species being found in North America. The Ruby-throated hummer is the only one to nest in eastern USA and Canada migrates from Central/South America to eastern North America and has the daunting task of crossing the Gulf of Mexico. On the occasions when they mis-judge the best time to cross the 500 miles they perish in the deep.


Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are important plant pollinators with long tongues to access the nectar which in flowers pollinated by hummers, butterflies, hawkmoths and many bees is rich in sucrose. It has become common for lodges and reserves to provide a range of sugar solution feeders to attract hummers in front of interested birders and other tourists. It is not unusual to have 20 or 30 on the feeders at the same time, flying round at electrifying speed with larger species bullying their smaller cousins. Identifying them is a challenge because the iridescent colours on their bodies change their appearance as they move around. 

Small hummers can move their wings at 50-80 beats a second and the ability to hover for sustained periods - to access flowers - sets them apart from other species of birds. They are able to do this because, uniquely, their wings are rigid except at the shoulder joint, which is flexible, allowing universal movement. So the wing can rotate by nearly 180 degrees allowing the bird to invert its wings with each stroke, enabling it to generate lift from both the up- and down-strokes. 

As they inevitably expend a lot of energy flying then hummers must eat an enormous amount, sometimes consuming several times their body weight in nectar in a single day. Most hummers are in the size range 7.5 to 13cms in length but the world’s smallest extant bird, the Bee Hummingbird, is only 5cms and weighs 1.5 to 2 grams. Birds this small go into torpor to counter altitude and cold nights.

There is nothing quite like watching Hummingbirds, they are one of the jewels of nature. And a brief selection of their names adds to their beauty :

Rufous-breasted Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-crested Coquette, Sapphire-spangled Emerald, Gould’s Jewelfront, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Collared Inca etc. 

I’m still trying to identify them on all the photos I took. It’s a real  challenge.