HUMMINGBIRDS


HUMMINGBIRDS (TROCHILIDAE FAMILY), COLIBRI Among the names early Spanish explorers gave to hummingbirds was joyas voladores (flying jewels). And indeed they are. The iridescent colors of these small New World birds delight and mystify observers. Since the colors of hummingbird plumage are structural rather than pigmented, the play of light on them creates different hues. Tiny air- and melanin- filled feather structures called platelets are the key. Almost all of the bird's feathers are iridescent but some parts display more brilliant color. hummingbirds at flowers or feeders may appear dark and without color, while at other times they glitter with dazzling flashes of red, green, purple, blue, or turquoise.

Costa Rica has at least 57 of the 330 species of hummers known to exist from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego (there are only 21 in all of the United States and Canada). No doubt you will see several species during your travels.

Observe the lengths and shapes of their bills as clues to which flowers provide their nectar. Hummingbirds are important pollinators of tropical plants, and these plants' flowers have developed features that allow access to hummingbirds. while excluding other species. Many flowers are tubular and trumpet-shaped, and many bloom at branch tips, which facilitates feeding from a hovering position. Perhaps you will get a glimpse of the bird's tongue as it feeds, a tongue that can measure twice as long as the bill itself. hummingbirds are attracted by color, not scent. As the hummingbird probes the blossom for nectar, some of the pollen brushes off on its feathers, which is then deposited on the next blossom of the same kind the bird visits, allowing fertilization.

High-energy creatures (up to 80 wing beats per second), hummingbirds need protein as well as nectar, which they get from flying insects, spiders, and tiny insects in some of the flower tubes. To maintain their high rate of metabolism, they must feed about every 10 minutes during the day. At night they slow their metabolism to conserve energy, going into a torpor state in which the heartbeat slows from as many as 1,260 beats per minute to 50 per minute.

From studies so far, it appears that after mating, the female assumes total responsibility for building the nest, sitting on the eggs (usually two), and feeding the young, who remain in the nest about three weeks.

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