I was thrilled! The cards, or in this case the random numbers we use to choose projects, were in my favor. I was assigned to the podcast project on the Colibri Cafe bordering Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It became clear early on that our story would focus on the controversy surrounding feeding birds an unnatural diet so close to the reserve. We spent the morning recording sound bites from cafe employees, tourists, and reserve employees. The story came together well before our scheduled rendezvous to head back to campus. This left me with a lot of time to do exactly what I hoped we would have time for… snapping some intimate photos of of my favorite birds.
After five minutes of being inundated with zipping, zooming, whizzing, and buzzing, I found myself rethinking my whole perspective on hummingbirds. These little birds were battling it out for their food resources, and the number of feeders drew quite the crowd.
With the help of my field guide, I quickly learned the species around me. By watching them a little longer, I started to figure out who was boss, who picked the fights, and who tried to get in and out unnoticed.
One of the first hummers you might notice is the Green Violetear (above). These guys have conspicuous purple feathers on either side of their heads. In a defense display, these birds erect those feathers like “ears,” giving them their peculiar name.
The male Purple-throated Mountain Gem (above) looked small next to the Violetear, but he made up for it in might. These little birds picked fights with everyone, and aggressively defended perches by flashing their purple throats and vocalizing frequently.
The Coppery-headed Emerald (above) is endemic to Costa Rica, making it one of the coolest birds at the feeder. Small in size, this species seemed to avoid physical confrontation with larger species. However, when it came to members of its own species, it was always on the offense.
So you might be wondering who “king” of the feeder is… This title is indisputably held by the Violet Sabrewing (above). By hummingbird standards, these guys were MASSIVE! Unless another Sabrewing was around, they rarely engaged in physical conflict. All they had to do was fly up to the feeder, and all the other species scattered. Looks kind of smug, doesn’t he?
Now sometimes a girl with a not-so-great point-and-shoot camera happens to take a photo she will never forget. Right before we left the cafe, I was lucky enough to get an action shot of a Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (below) in a defensive display. These birds, like the Emeralds, mostly picked fights with birds their own size. In this case, a Mountain Gem decided that he needed that perch. The Stripe-tailed Hummingbird simply wasn’t having it, and sent him off with this grand gesture.
Despite the controversy surrounding the feeders, I genuinely enjoyed my time there watching the birds. I hope that in the near future, the Cafe can use native plants instead of sugar water to bring in birds. It’s in their plans, and I hope it becomes a reality. I came to the cafe thinking I would learn about the personalities and perspectives of the people there. I left having learned a whole different world of “personalities”, in tiny feathered packages.
Lauren Phillips, Graduate Student in Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University.