Skip to content

Becoming the Hummers

March 3, 2023

Two months have passed since we arrived. On every day of those two months, Hattie and I have sat for an hour and counted the number of individual hummingbirds from each species at the hummingbird feeders off the front porch. The porch overlooks the Río Nambillo, though you can hardly see it behind the thick riparian forest below. Below, our bridge can just barely be detected through the ferns and leaves. Across the river from us sits a massive tree in the middle of our viewshed, dwarfing all the other trees. Our neighbor and owner of the Sendero de Las Aves, Germán, comments on how much bigger it is than all the other trees around every time he comes to visit.

Every day we sit here and watch the hummingbirds buzz around. We take turns or we do it together, often drinking a tea or coffee between peeks through our binoculars. They whip and zip around, greedily guzzling down sweet sugar water until another jealous visitor runs them off.

Just based on our short observations, we have noticed some species seem to be much more aggressive than others. To begin, the Crowned Wood Nymph (Thalurania colombica) males frequently run off other species and individuals at the feeders. With a seemingly angry deet-deet-deet-deet, they spread their wings and tails wide making themselves look big before surging towards their target. For a while, a Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodaxa jacula) male sat on the post on which our second feeder hangs. He would sit there not drinking from the feeder except for the occasional quick sip; instead, he would wait for any other bird to attempt to land at his chosen feeder then run them off into the trees. We noticed this occurring for about a week before he seemed to get bored and stopped guarding the feeder so intensely.

White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora)

While we haven’t seen the White-necked Jacobins (Florisuga mellivora) fighting with other species so much, they definitely fight with each other frequently. Sometimes three or more of them will begin to go at it. It begins by two of them expanding their wings and tails till they look enormous, each paralleling the other. Soon this devolves into them spinning around each other, flying away in a whirlwind towards the trees. Occasionally one hops out of the apparent fight to go grab a quick sip of sugar water, but it’s just as likely to see them fly together all the way into the tree tops. The Andean Emerald (Uranomitra franciae) behaves similarly, generally only picking fights between its own kind.

Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni)

A few of the other species tend to be much shyer. One of our favorite birds to see at the feeders is the Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni). This large brown hummingbird, with a beautiful white spot on its neck, shows up far less than the other birds we see at the feeders, though he or she will generally show up once a day. Rarely have we seen more than one at a time, but it does happen. He comes in and takes a sip, then quickly flies backwards, hovering for a second before returning to sip. A few repetitions of this sequence, and if it hasn’t been run off yet by its more aggressive neighbors, the Brown Inca typically takes off. This bird’s range is extremely limited, only existing in the cloud forests on the western slope of the Andes in norther Ecuador and southern Colombia.

Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni) coming in to drink its favorite drink.

When we first arrived, we hardly saw any Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds (Amazilia tzacatl). However, we started putting vegetable oil on the surfaces of the hummingbird feeders, as the bees were taking over and it seemed to be bothering the birds quite a lot. Since putting oil on the feeders, the bees have completely stopped investigating the feeders (and subsequently drowning themselves in sugar water after stubbornly crawling their way inside). Closely following the departure of the bees, the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird started coming much more frequently. Now we seem him about once a day, and have even seen two at once. He is a much shyer bird than the others that visit the feeders, so we suspect that the bees pushed him out of his comfort zone to the point he no longer felt it worth it to visit. While he is seemingly less likely to attack other birds at the feeders, we have noticed it defending a feeder twice now!

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)

The most exciting visitors we’ve gotten, just at the end of February, are the Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae), the Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti), and the Purple-throated Woodstar (Philodice mitchellii). So far, these have been more elusive than the other birds at the feeders, coming in for a second, getting a drink, then flying off to not be seen again. We have only seen these birds a couple times. The Purple-crowned Fairy flew right up to my face, perhaps attempting to interrogate me about whether I had sugar in my coffee (which I did and always do) but my camera sat and by the time I grabbed it the bird was flew off leaving me to snap a blurry action photo not worth much. The Fairy is a bit gaudier than the other elusive birds. The Brown Violetear, however, has shown its face a few times and acts somewhat similarly to the Brown Inca as far as I can tell in my very limited interactions with it. The violetears are beautiful birds with strange ear shaped and violet colored tufts on their face (hence the name violet-ear) that at times puff out making the birds face look much larger than it is.

Brown violetear (Colibri delphinae)

The Purple-throated Woodstar is a tiny hummingbird. Despite its small size, it makes itself very noticeable because of its flight pattern which resembles a bumblebee. Both times we have seen it, I thought it was a large bug at first! Like the Brown Inca, the Purple-throated Woodstar has a very small range, occurring in norther Ecuador and southern Colombia along the western slope of the Andes in cloud forest and secondary forests. Not that having a very small range makes these birds more important than others, but it does speak to the incredible biodiversity and high rates of endemism in this region, and the importance of protecting key habitat for birds like these. Without protected areas in these highly biodiverse areas, we will easily lose countless species. We count ourselves lucky to be able to spend time in the homes of these species that exist nowhere else in the world.

Purple-throated Woodstar (Philodice mitchellii)

For better or for worse, Hattie and I have started to notice ourselves imitating the hummingbird habits. Not imitating their constant bickering or ability to fly backwards, but their incessant craving for sugar water. While they dip their long beaks into the feeders and lap up our homemade mixture of four parts water to one part sugar, Hattie and I sit watching them with our binoculars and our sugary drinks, whether that be a large coffee sweetened by copious amounts of honey (to be clear Hattie drinks their coffee black) or a tall pitcher of very sweet, deep red jamaica tea. The jamaica goes quick and before long we find ourselves filling a new pitcher with the red liquid, about as frequently as we fill up the hummingbird feeders. It would be hard to beat a hummingbird at its own game, but we sure seem to be trying!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: