Hummingbird Wars: Size Doesn’t Really Matter

A garden emerald hovers

There are few birds that draw gasps of delight quite like the hummingbird. With deft, precise motions, these brightly coloured birdlets move quickly from flower to flower, wasting no time in extracting the sugar-rich nectar they depend on for energy. And just as quickly, with a sudden thrum of wings, they dash out of sight. Fortunately, the patient observer can count on a prompt comeback – these frequent feeders will plunder a richly flowering shrub dozens of times in a single day.

A Canivet's emerald flicks her tongue

The grounds of the Hotel Sugar Beach are busy with their beeline dashes from flower to flower, jeweled streaks that challenge photographers to find a moment of stillness to capture. Many of Costa Rica’s estimated 54 species live on or migrate to Guanacaste’s coast. The sunny summer season is one of the best times of year for viewing, coinciding with the peak of the North American winter. In Guanacaste, the rainy season has left the landscape green and lush, and as the rains taper off, an explosion of flowers appear – a veritable hummingbird mecca.

A long-billed starthroat glimmers red gorget

With their tiny bodies, whirring wings and hammering hearts, hummingbirds certainly appear to be fragile, gentle creatures. They have their vulnerabilities; a heart rate that races in excess of 1000 beats per minute demands constant energy. A hummingbird will feed several times an hour, supplementing nectar with insects to satisfy a constant hunger. (A clear example of eat to live, live to eat!)

A cinnamon hummingbird feeds on favored red

Yet despite their diminutive stature and understated calls, make no mistake: hummingbirds are fierce survivors. At night, to save precious resources, hummingbirds enter a state of ‘torpor’ – a kind of suspended animation that slows down their heart rate and respiration, allowing them to survive the night without feeding. During the day, good territory will be staked out and aggressively defended, and inexperienced youngsters beware – there is no mercy for mere naivety. Resident males will often perch on a branch with a clear line of sight to “his” flower bush, letting out hoarse chirps to warn potential usurpers away.

The hummingbird moth is a clever mimic

Whether it is the excitement of the “hummingbird wars”, or the serenity that comes with watching a vivid and beautiful creature move amongst the flowers on a sunny day, we invite you to take part, and stake out a little piece of the territory here at the Hotel Sugar Beach.

-C. Keogan