Hummingbirds belong to the family of birds called Trochilidae, they can be find in all America, from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. In Costa Rica there have been 54 species reported to be found, most of them are resident, all throw a few are migratory birds coming from the north. Of the 54 species there is 4 endemic hummingbirds of which 2 are very rare, and some have been seen in very few occasion so they are as well rare to see. Even so there is the chance to see up to 25 species on a visit to this tropical country.
As many of Costa Rican hummingbirds name imply, emerald, goldentail, mountain-gem, magnificent, violet, hummingbirds are the neotropical avian jewels, among Costa Rican hummers there is to find sabrewings, starthoats, fairies and mangos.
Hummingbirds can be describe as highly active birds that effortlessly fly forward and backward. They accomplish their remarkable controlled flight by a unique rotation of their wings through an angle of 180 degrees and by having an extremely high metabolism, hummingbirds heart rates reach up to 1,260 beats per minute, and some species beat their wings approximately 80 times per second. Hummingbirds metabolism requires that the birds feed many times a day to fuel their tiny bodies.
Hummingbirds are both thrilling and frustrating to watch because they move so quickly, suddenly appear at a flower, move to a different one and zoom off. Others will come and go, and some will occasionally perch. Best way to observe hummingbirds well is at a flowering tree or scrub with the sun on the back so that the metallic coloration will glow. When a male is on courtship, he position himself in a way that the colors are as bright as they can for the female to notice.
In Costa Rica is easy to find hummingbirds in heliconias, birds of paradise and other colorful plants, as they are attract to red, orange and yellow flowers, and a single flowering tree or scrub can be a food resource for several species. In a tree full of flowers is common to see both inter and intra specific aggression as hummingbirds try to defend their position at their favorite flower, this competition happens because all throw a plant have many flowers, very few may be nectar rich. As well other hummingbirds are not territorial and they seem to circulate a regular route visiting several flowers.
When seeing hummingbirds in Costa Rica is interesting to know there are foraging patterns describe, this tell us how hummers behavior while feeding, this evident how hummingbirds exploit flowers:
- High-reward Trapliner: this hummers visit but do not defend nectar-rich flowers with long corollas, an example are the hermits that have regular routes that they visit and are most common in the understory.
- Low-reward Trapliners: which forage among a variety of disperse or nectar-poor flowers.
- Territorialist: this defends dense clumps of somewhat shorter flowers.
- Generalist: this hummingbirds follow shifting foraging patterns among various resourses.
Territory-parasites: which there are two different types.
- Large marauders: large bodies species that can intimidate normally territorial smaller species.
- Small filchers: are species with small bodies that enter and feet quickly, before been detected by territorial birds.
Some Hummingbirds that can be find in Costa Rica
Subfamily Phaethornitinae (Hermit Hummingbirds)
Though most Costa Rica hummingbirds have brilliant colors, not all. The group of Hermit hummingbirds are mostly brown with grayish or rufous breasted. All hermits have a black line bordered by white through the eye and a long curved bill, this birds habit the understory and edges, and their less colorfull plumage seems to fit well with the dark forest interior. In Costa Rica there is 5 species of hermits, 4 are find in lowlands of both slopes and 1 is find in middle elevations. All are common in their respective ranges, easy to recognize, as well easy to find in gardens where heliconia are abundant.
Subfamily Trochilinae (all the other species)
Most Costa Rica hummingbirds belong to this subfamily, most of them have a bit more iridescent coloration than hermits, as well most of the members of this group have sexual dimorphism, on with males usually have bright gorgets, crests, throats, crowns chests, heads and tails. Some of the most common members of this bird group to see are:
- Violet Sabrewing(Campylopterushemileucurus): It is a species of the understory and edges of mountain forests, especially near streams. The Violet Sabrewing is 15 cm long. The adult male is deep violet, with a dark green back and wing coverts. The shafts of the male’s outer primary flight feathers are thickened and flattened to give the distinctive feature which gives the sabrewingstheir English and scientific names, the female is dark green above and grey below apart from a violet throat. In Costa Rica this hummingbird is easy to find in middle elevations, from 1,000 to 2,400 meter above sea level, a great area to see this big size hummingbird is Monteverde, where is common in gardens and forest edges, as well it can be find in many other spots.
- Purple-crowned Fairy: (Heliothryxbarroti) is a large hummingbird that length 11.5 cm long and weighs 6.5 g. It is slender and has bright white underparts, a green back, and a long pointed tail, no other Costa Rica hummingbird has entirely white under parts. The Purple-crowned Fairy has a very light and graceful flight. It eats insects, picked off the foliage or caught in flight, and takes nectar from flowers, piercing the bases of larger blooms such as Heliconia. This is a fairly common hummer in the country, they inhabit humid and wet forests and second growth woodlands on both slopes of Costa Rica, from sea level up to 1,600 meters above sea level. This species often is fairly aggressive even though they are not territorial.
- White-necked Jacobin: (Florisugamellivora) is a large and attractive hummingbird that is easy to find in Costa Rica, it habits in lowlands from sea level to 1,000 meters above sea level, it is common to see it foraging at all levels at forest edges and gardens, as well is often seen zipping back and forth in mid-air catching insects. The approximately 12 cm long male White-necked Jacobin is unmistakable with its white belly and tail, a white band on the nape and a dark blue hood, and females are highly variable, and may resemble adult or immature males, they have green upperparts, white belly, and scaled throated and chest.
- Violet-crowned Woodnymph: (Thaluraniacolombicacolombica) is a middium size hummingbird found in Costa Rica, in Caribbean lowlands and foothills to 900 meters and in southern Pacific up to 1,200 meters. The adults Violet-crowned Woodnymph is 10.2cm long and weighs 4.5 g. Males have the crown, upper back, shoulders and belly with an iridescent violet color a shiny green throat and breast, green lower back, and a deeply forked blue-black tail. The female is bright green above and duller green below, with a gray throat and breast and her tail is rounded. The food of this species is nectar, taken from a variety of flowers. Males feed in the canopy, where their food plants include epiphytic Ericaceaeand bromeliads, and defend flowers and scrubs in their feeding territories. Females stay in the understory. Like other hummingbirds, Violet-crowned Woodnymph also takes small insects and spiders as an essential source of protein.
- Rufous-tailed Hummingbird: (Amaziliatzacatl) Amazilia is the lasgest group of hummers that we have in Costa Rica with 10 reported species. The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is a medium-sized hummingbird that is widespread in Costa Rica, it can be find up to 2,200 meters. This is one of the most common and easy to see hummers in the country. This is a common to abundant bird of open country, river banks, woodland, scrub, forest edge, coffee plantations and gardens. This hummer have a green throat, the crown, back and flanks are green tinged golden, the belly is pale grayish, and the main characteristic is that the vent and rump are rufous. The almost straight bill is red with a black tip; the black is more extensive on the upper mandible, which may appear all black. The food of this species is nectar, taken from a variety of flowers, like other hummingbirds, it also takes small insects. Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds are very aggressive, and defend flowers and shrubs in their feeding territories. They are dominant over most other hummingbirds
- Violet-headed Hummingbird: (Klaisguimeti) this species of hummingbird is monotypic on the genus Klais, it is the only member of this group. This small hummer is find in Costa Rica foothills, it is fairly common in Caribbean foothills and adjacent, from 300 to 1,000 meters, and fairly uncommon in southern Pacific from 300 to 1,200 meters above sea level. Violet-headed Hummingbirds are on average 8.1 cm in length with a short, straight bill. The head and throat of the male are intense violet with white spots behind each eye that stands out against the dark head. The back is metallic bluish-green and breast is green fading to a gray belly.The Violet-headed Hummingbird drinks nectarfrom understory flowering shrubs as well as taking small insectson the wing. In Costa Rica they have been seem a lot taking nectar from Stachytarphetaflowers, there has been reports with of as many as one individual every 5–7 meters.
Now let’s mention some of the crown jewel hummingbirds of Costa Rica, this are hummers that are not so easy to see as they are less common and in some cases endemic to a certain area of the country:
- White-tipped Sicklebill: (Eutoxeresaquila) The White-tipped Sicklebill has an extraordinarily sharp decurve to its long bill, which makes it unmistakable among Costa Rica hummingbirds. This bill is apparently specially adapted to obtain nectar from the flowers of Heliconiaand Centropogonplants. Sicklebills feed by trap-lining between favorite plants and, unlike most other hummingbirds, actually perch on the flowers while feeding. The White-tipped occurs in the understory of humid forest in foothills and on mountain slopes, in Costa Rica it is a very uncommon hummer in Caribbean foothills and southern Pacific. The best way to observe this bird is by patiently wait close to Heliconiaor Centropogonflowers. This bird has been seen nesting and feeding at Heliconiadanielsianaat Osa Peninsula in the southern part of the country.
- Coppery-headed Hummingbird: (Elvira cupreiceps) this is a small hummingbird endemic to Costa Rica. It measures 7.6cm, and weighs only 3 g. The male has distinctive coppery crown and rump with a whole green belly and white vent. The female has a white belly and a narrow black subterminal band on white outer rectrices of the tail. Its has a small decurved bill that sets it apart from similar the White-tailed Emerald. This species is fairly common at middle elevations on Caribbean Slope, south to Reventazon River; from 600 to 1,500 meters. Also it is fairly common on Pacific slope of Guanacaste and Tilaran Cordilleras; from 1,200 to 1,500 meters. Like all hummingbirds, the Coppery-headed Emerald feeds on nectar and smalinvertebrates. Because its bill is short, it forages at small flowers; it feeds at all levels in mature wet montane forest and forest edges.
- White-crested Coquette: (Lophornisadorabilis) is a small species hummingbird, that looks very beelike when flight, it length only 8 cm. These tiny coquettes have considerable rufous on their lower underparts and tails. Males show an elegant white crest and have shiny green cheek. Found only in Costa Rica and Panama, White-Crested Coquettes frequent humid forests, secondary growth, and shaded plantations, in Costa Rica they can be find in part of the Central Valley where they are rare, and in southern Pacific where they are a bit easier to find, they are somewhat sporadically within this areas since they tend to show up in large numbers only when certain flowers are blooming, an excellent spot to find this small hummer is at Casew trees, that produce many small white flowers that this coquette use for feeding. The White-crested Coquette tend to be subordinate to larger hummingbirds when feeding, so it is common to see it feeding fast and leaving the area.
- Black-crested Coquette: (Lophornishelenae) Isa small species of hummer, it length only 8 cm, in Costa Rica is an uncommon bird in Caribbean foothills and rare in Central Valley area. Male Black-crested Coquettes are characterized by their green throat and crown and long black crest feathers; the bronzy breast band; and elongated black-and-buff cheek feathers. Both male and female White-crested Coquette can be tell apart by the pale-rufous bellied. Like all coquettes, the females are decidedly less 'fancy-looking' creatures, lacking the green throat, and the cheek and crest adornments. Both sexes have the narrow white rump band that is typical of the genus. Black-crested Coquette inhabits semiopen forested areas, second growth, and plantations, and usually forages in the canopy by trap-lining at flowers or catching arthropods. When they come to lower elavation they are often seen coming to Stachytarpheta flowers.
- Mangrove Hummingbird: (Amaziliaboucardi) It is found only in Costa Rica. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical mangrove forests. It is threatened by habitat loss. The mangrove hummingbird feeds primarily on nectar from the flowers of the tea mangrove Pellicierarhizophorae. Mangrove hummingbirds are occasionally seen in adjacent non-mangrove habitats. This hummers is a bit hard to find, it habits Gulf of Nicoya all the way down to GolfoDulce, it is also around Tamarindo. Mangrove Hummingbirds are bronze and green in color. The male is pale green on his crown and upperparts, with bronze tinge to his rear with his tail being a bronze-green color. They have dark bills with reddish lower mandible. Females are similar looking with mainly white underparts and little green spotting on throat and sides. Best chance to see this Costa Rican jewel is in the Golfo de Nicoya mangroves.
There is many different species of hummers in the world, there is information of 356 of them, of which most like in Central America. As well this magnificent birds are endangered, there 51 of them that have some sort of endangered species status. There is the necessity to keep these magnificent birds, and the best way is to get to know them and offer them good opportunities to survive. The best way to do that is conservation of their habitats, this is in a mayor scale, and all of us can help them by putting some plants that they could feed from, we can observe the species that would visit our area and plant the right plants for them.