The many hummingbirds of Costa Rica.

Quick – what do you call a tiny little bird that seems to defy the laws of physics and hums loudly while it does it? That’s right, The Amazing Physics Defying Bird. Or I guess you could call it a hummingbird if you were feeling particularly uninspired.

A Violet-crowned woodnymph on a branch
Hummingbirds are small – photo: Brian Gratwicke

If you want to see one of these incredible birds, which in my humble opinion deserve a much better name, than you might want to go to the home of Jurassic Park – Costa Rica.

This small Central American country (on the squiggly bit between North and South America) is home to 52 species (out of a known 338) of hummingbird. One for every week of the year, which is probably a coincidence.

A Volcano hummingbird on a twig
Bird on a twig – photo: Festive Coquette

These amazing little birds manage to hover by beating their wings at a frankly incredible rate of between 12 beats per second for the larger birds to over 80 beats per second for the tiny ones. Doing this takes a lot of energy, which helps explain why they have the greatest metabolic rate for their size of any animal that regulates its own body temperature. This means that when food is scarce, or at night time, the birds go into a state of torpor (similar to hibernation) which drops their heart rate to 1/15t of its usual speed.

A Violet-crowned woodnymph - Costa Rica
A small, blue and green bird – photo: Amir Matityahu

All this is in aid of gathering nectar from tropical flowers with their long tongue, which darts in and out, sucking up the sweet liquid. So, basically, they’re like tiny-winged toddlers, haring about like absolute nutters in search of sugar, until they run out of energy and just sleep for ages. I’m not sure that hummingbirds dribble as much as toddlers though. Possibly. More research is needed.

Scintillant Hummingbird, in flight
Dinner time – photo: Festive Coquette

Let’s take a look at some of Costa Rica’s most impressive birds, focusing on the ones that you won’t find anywhere else.

First off we have the Mangrove hummingbird, which is an endangered species found only in the mangrove forests of Costa Rica. (See what I mean about being uninspired with the names?)

Mangrove Hummingbird, Costa Rica
Mangrove Hummingbird – photo: Wikipedia/Jorge Obando

Much like me, this bird drinks mostly tea, but whereas I’m having a lovely cup of Yorkshire gold, the bird is making do with the nectar of the tea mangrove. With an average length of 10 centimetres (3.9 inches) these stunning birds are green and bronze and they make tiny little nests in the mangrove trees, using balsa wood, cobwebs and lichens. Sadly there are only between 2,500 and 10,000 of these birds left (it’s hard to count small, fast-moving birds in dense jungle) and their numbers are declining due to climate change.

Next up is the Scintillant hummingbird, which looks rather like a robin that’s been involved in an industrial accident. This is one of the smallest hummingbirds found in Costa Rica, at a mere 8.5-10 centimetres (2.6-3.1 inches) long, which includes the beak. It is only slightly bigger than the world’s smallest hummingbird (the bee hummingbird)

Scintillant Hummingbird
Scintillant Hummingbird – photo:Matt MacGillivray

Despite its small size, this bird likes to live rather high up, often being found in coffee plantations and gardens between 900-2,000 meters (3,000–6,600 feet) up in the Costa Rican mountains.

One bird that likes to venture even higher up in the mountains is the Volcano hummingbird, found in Costa Rica and western Panama in areas from 1,850 meters and up.  Sadly they do not appear to have the ability to spew lava from their beaks, which would be a sight to see.

Volcano Hummingbird
Volcano Hummingbird – photo:Robert Morin

On the larger side of things, we have Talamanca hummingbird, also known as the Admirable hummingbird, which is also found Costa Rica and Panama. While you might think that the Admirable hummingbird is a pretty decent name, they used to be lumped in with the wider ranging Rivoli’s hummingbird, which was known as the Magnificent hummingbird, so admirable is a bit of a downgrade. These chaps are around 14 centimetres (5.5 inches) long, and put most other hummingbirds to shame when it comes to their size.

Talamanca Hummingbird
Talamanca Hummingbird – photo: Festive Coquette

But I think we’ll end on one of the best looking (and best named) hummingbird species. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for the Violet-crowned woodnymph. This amazingly bright birdy is found all over South and Central America. It’s one of the medium sized species, at just over 10 centimetres long. It lives in the damp lowlands and foothills, reaching heights of up to 2,500 metres, and even higher during the mating season.

Other than that just look at this amazing bird:

Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Violet-crowned Woodnymph – photo: Kathy & Sam

Right I’m off to try and flap my arms 80 times a second while I drink Yorkshire gold through a straw.

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About Russell Wallace

Russell Wallace

My fondest holiday was definitely spending two weeks in Texas last Halloween, where I got to shoot guns, doze in the sun and worry about spiders all day. It was much less arid and dry than I was expecting and everyone was so friendly. Southern hospitality is a real thing and it’s amazing. I also found out that a swimming hole is a lot nicer than it sounds.

Russell works in our customer service team

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