Last Updated: Apr 16, 2012
Vibrantly-colored and energetic, hummingbirds are named for the distinctive sound made by their tiny beating wings. Known locally as colibris, their remarkable size, fearless nature and shimmering colors have made these flying jewels a favorite among birders and wildlife lovers. Of the 338 known species, roughly 50 hummingbirds live or breed in Costa Rica’s tropical lowlands and cool cloud forests. Native to New World countries, hummers are divided into two sub-families. The Trochilinae, or typical hummingbirds, include all of the colorful species, while the Phaethornithinae comprise 34 species of hermits.
Scientific Name: Selasphorus scintilla
Status in the Wild: Common
Habitat: Cloud Forests, Rainforests
The Americas are home to a dazzling variety of hummingbird species that range from minuscule to surprisingly big, with varying tail streamers, head plumes and colorations. Their ability to hover for long periods of time and to fly backwards makes them different from all other birds. Hummingbirds eat at least half their body weight in food every day to support their high energy lifestyle. At night, their body temperature drops as they go into a state of torpor to help conserve energy. Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate of any bird – their heart rate can exceed 1,200 beats a minute.
Hummingbirds have co-evolved with flowers and plants, developing long slender bills and even longer tongues to feed on nectar. Because flowers regularly bloom and fade, most hummingbirds lead somewhat solitary lives, aggressively defending nectar sources from rival hummers, bees and butterflies. They also eat insects to help supplement fat and protein in their diet.
The smallest Costa Rican hummer is the male scintillant hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla), which weighs in at just two grams. At 11.5 grams, the violet sabrewing, or Campylopterus hemileucurus, is the largest – its brilliant violet head and body contrasted by dark green wings.
Hummingbirds inhabit a variety of temperate and tropical habitats in Costa Rica. In the lowland areas, hummers typically nest during the dry season months of December through April. Those found in highlands like Monteverde or San Gerardo de Dota usually nest towards the end of the year when temperatures are colder and epiphytic flowers are blooming.
Only ten species of hummingbirds are known to live in Costa Rica’s highlands. One of the more common is the fiery-throated hummingbird (Panterpe insignis), which breeds in the cool forests near Poas and Irazu volcanoes and the high-elevation cloud forests along the Talamanca Mountains. This stunner is an iridescent green, with a dark blue tail, indigo chest, copper-orange throat and a radiant blue crown. Another cold-weather lover is the magnificent hummingbird, which flashes its shimmering plumage along the Cerro de la Muerte, frequenting the humid montane forests from 2000 meters up to the timberline.
Hummingbird Hot Spots in Costa Rica:
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
- Santa Elena Reserve
- Selvatura Park in Monteverde
- San Gerardo de Dota
- Los Quetzales National Park
- La Selva Biological Station in Sarapiqui
- Poas Volcano National Park
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens
True loners due to their territorial nature, hummingbirds only mingle with the opposite sex for a short time during mating. Nests are constructed of moss, twigs, plant fibers and fern leaves, sometimes bound together with cobwebs. A clutch typically consists of two small white eggs, which are incubated by the female for 14-19 days. Chicks are fed a mixture of nectar and regurgitated insects and remain in the nest for up to a month.
Status in the Wild:
Most hummingbirds are abundant with no danger of extinction. Fortunately, hummer populations in Costa Rica are not yet seriously threatened, with the exception of the mangrove hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi), whose habitat along the Pacific Coast is threatened by local development and increased pollution.