Wednesday, 02 March 2016 16:23

Ten Target Animals for our upcoming Costa Rica Blog - No 4 - Hummingbirds

You cannot go to Costa Rica without being mesmerised and charmed by the 54 species of spellbinding hummingbirds that this country has to offer.  They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, each one filling a particular niche and role within the various ecosystems. Luckily for us tourists, most lodges have realised their pulling power and have planted a range of flowering plants in their gardens to attract these exquisite little creatures. Verbena litoralis plants are the flowers that I see the most, and the hummers can’t get enough of it!

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Hummingbird on one of the favoured verbena plants at Macaw Lodge, Jay Knight

As you probably already know, they are called hummingbirds due to the noise of their wings flapping so fast that it creates a humming sound, and they are loud! In fact you can hear them coming from a long way away which gives you a good chance to get ready and fix your eyes (and camera lenses) on the nearest flowering plant. You have to be super quick because they are lightning fast, and flick from one flower to the next at an unearthly speed. Whilst in flight, they have the highest metabolism in the animal kingdom apart from insects. So luckily, their speed and agility drains a lot of energy out of them, and they seem to have lots of breaks and tend to find a nearby branch to rest and watch the world go by, often letting you get unusually close to them!

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Violet-headed hummingbird letting me get very close at Arenal observatory lodge, Jay Knight

In bad light, hummingbirds can appear quite drab and colourless, but as soon as the sun catches them correctly they burst into life and the iridescent two tone plumage comes alive. This is to catch the eye of the female and is also thought to be related to aggression, as some birds can deliberately align their feathers with the sun to make the feathers more vivid and threatening to rival males. Speaking of aggression, it is very surprising how feisty they can be. Some species in particular, such as the pictures rufous tailed hummingbird can be very territorial and will attack any other hummingbird species that dares sample the nectar of its favourite bush! They spend a large part of the day chasing away invaders as these tiny droplets of nectar are very precious. It is thought that due to their extreme metabolic demands, hummingbirds are only a few hours away from death at all times, and generally only have enough energy to last overnight. So they have to keep finding food, and when they do find their own territory, they are very precious about it and defend it like a mad man.

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Rufous-tailed hummingbird (pictured) are very territorial and fend off any hummers who come to the favourite bush. Jay Knight

On our upcoming trip, our itinerary will see us traversing a cross section of the whole country from Northeast to southwest, which will naturally give us a good chance of seeing a wider range of the hummers that are present. From my personal experience, it seems that hummingbird diversity increases with a bit of elevation above sea level, so when we cross the mountainous spine of Costa Rica, to places like Poas volcano, we will see some of the more whacky looking species like this black crested coquette.

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Black-crested coquette, Arenal Observatory lodge, Jay Knight

It is very hard to get an idea of size from this photo. The angle and delicate detail of the bird give you the impression that it is quite big. It’s not, it is tiny. In fact the smallest bird in the world is a hummingbird called the bee hummingbird, which is 57mm, and these black crested coquettes usually range from 58mm to 110mm. Not far off the smallest bird in the world.

Anyway fingers crossed we see a wide variety of them on the upcoming trip this July. For more details please see the event page here:

Or the website here:

Message us if you are interested.

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