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The Buzz on Hummingbirds

March 26, 2019

As some of you may know, one of our favorite books at Reserva Las Tangaras is Neotropical Companion by John Kricher. I, fortunately, picked this book up before my travels to Ecuador and I am constantly intrigued by Kricher’s educational and witty writing. This blog post is dedicated to sharing some of the interesting things that Kricher provides within the text about hummingbird species.

First, hummingbirds have mites. It may be hard to believe that a parasite can inhabit the feathers of a creature with such fast speeds and fighter jet agility, but the mites have discovered a dispersal mechanism to conquer even the fastest hummingbirds. To disperse themselves, the mites jump off the hummingbird they are currently inhabiting, scamper into a flower, and wait for another hummingbird or flowerpiercer to stop by. Once the next bird visits the flower, the mites scamper up the nostrils of the unfortunate creature. Talk about a tickle in the nose!

Some plants have evolved to encourage more cross-pollination from hummingbird species. Various species of Heliconia, two example photos included for reference, produce different levels of nectar within their flowers, in a system called “bonanza-blank.” Some flowers, the “bonanzas,” produce lots of nectar, and other flowers, the ”blanks,” produce a few drops. This process not only conserves energy for the plant, but it also ensures that multiple visits will occur among its flowers. These plants inhabit Reserva Las Tangaras, and often white-whiskered hermits (Phaethornis yaruqui) and tawny-bellied hermits (Phaethornis syrmatophorus) are seen visiting them with their long, curved beaks.

This next concept contains complex themes not destined for the minds of young naturalists. Kricher describes a study that was completed by Jerry Wolf in 1975 that discusses a hummingbird species native to the Caribbean, the purple-throated caribs (Eulampis jugularis). The males of this species are incredibly territorial, and they defend their flowers diligently, even against females of their own species. Females, sometimes hungry and desperate to get nectar, court males to gain access to their flowers. They do this even during times of the year when they cannot be impregnated! The full report and its juicy title can be found at this link:

This is just a taste of some of the themes and topics that John Kricher describes in Neotropical Companion and hopefully, it has encouraged you to pick up a copy. Kricher, an ornithologist by training, is a well-rounded naturalist at heart and sheds light on nearly any subject you would like to learn about. Before visiting us, we recommend that you pick up a copy of this text and read along as you explore.

Currently, at Reserva Las Tangaras, we are watching an average of ten hummingbird species buzz by our feeders daily. We consistently see three other species visiting flowers within the woods and semi-open areas. As we watch, we cannot help but imagine the crazy things that are yet to be discovered — and also the feeling of mites crawling in your nostrils.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Charles D Duncan permalink
    March 26, 2019 2:40 pm

    You know there’s now a Spanish language version of Kricher’s book: “Un Compañero Neotropical.” I have a spare copy I could send.


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