How useful is the iridescence for hummingbirds

Ecuador October 19-13, 2015

Identifying hummingbirds without prior knowledge is not that easy, not even at feeding places where there is constant change. Very few hummingbirds have such distinctive features as an extremely long or special tail. Thanks to its "flag", the rare flag sylph was one of the first hummingbirds that I could identify. I was soon able to assign a common red-beaked species with a red-brown tail to the brown-tailed amalia, but how do you identify the other species as a beginner hummingbird? The large number of hummingbird species to be found in Ecuador is spread over several pages, regardless of which bird book you use. Which page should you turn to first? In the standard work "The Birds of Ecuador" by Ridgely and Greenfield, 6 color plates with 19-26 species of hummingbirds each have to be looked through, and because females are mostly different from males, a total of 225 images are obtained. In real time you can usually not assign any of them to the observation, there is a lack of experience and also the knowledge of which species can be excluded. In this regard, helpful distribution maps are placed right next to the individual images in the Fieldbook by Miles McMullan & Lelis Navarrete, but where can laypeople find the kind on 8 double pages that is currently dancing around in front of their noses and will be gone in the next moment?

For good reason, I doubted that a subsequent determination based on my own photos would be successful and took very few photos in our accommodation, the Bellavista Lodge, to my later regret. After all, there are extremely high-quality hummingbird photos by professionals on the Internet that I would not be able to get with my Canon D70 and a 400 mm lens. In addition, the light was often inadequate and I had no aids such as light barriers. Shouldn't every moment of the encounter be simply accepted as a gift?

There were no ornithologists by my side, but people who were happy about the great landscape with all its facets. The guide of our mini-group suspected that we would experience happy moments in the nearby "Alambi Hummingbirds paradise", and so we accepted his suggestion to observe the shimmering tiny creatures there at feeding places. This afternoon led me to the realization that a camera is a good way of learning to differentiate between hummingbirds. I saw at least 20 different species in our 4-day mountain cloud forest stay and documented 17 photographically. In case of doubt, our guide Luis Panama later helped me with the follow-up via * e-mail. At first I had no idea that photo documentation could be possible or even useful. Therefore, of all things, there are no pictures of the long-tailed species, which is why I also offer links to other photo sites.

In Hummingbird Paradise there is an area with flowering plants in a large garden. There are also sugar water dispensers installed here. All we had to do was sit down and look. Or to take pictures and look after what the stick has recorded. The various feed dispensers were in great demand. Of course, photos in natural surroundings are more attractive, but our main actors didn't care and set their priorities differently. At times the hummingbirds literally jostled the donors. After all, the sugar water dispensers filled up faster. We are all the happier about successful pictures of hummingbirds in their natural environment. Who is playing the woodpecker in the picture on the left? And who would have thought straight away that all 4 photos in this series were from the same species? The brilliant green crown appears so differently depending on the position and the incidence of light. The white spot behind the eye is typical for both sexes. As in the 2nd picture from the left, females and young birds have a breast speckled with white. As the original photo series shows, the 3rd and 4th pictures are the same individual. As with all hummingbird species, the shiny colors are caused by interference and can change in a fraction of a second. The picture on the right even shows blue wings. In the authoritative identification book by Ridgely and Greenfield it is pointed out that only the blue-winged hummingbirdPterophanes cyanopterus has blue wings. However, its beak shape is different and the species does not occur in the Bellavista area. The beautiful colors in the right picture are all too ephemeral and are immediately replaced in the visual perception by the next moment. Only the photo can capture the passing moment. Some species have already anchored the predisposition for particularly iridescent colors in their genome and inspired us with their eye-catching shine. In the case of the unbeatable shimmering green-crowned nymph (left), the female (next to it) is, as so often, much more plainly colored. The white-naped hummingbird and the great violet-eared hummingbird (right) also have striking blue-green tones. The latter measures at least 12 cm. Its relative, the little violet-eared hummingbird, which is 2.5 cm shorter, lacks the violet on the belly. The so-called "violet ear" has a signal effect for conspecifics when the feathers are spread apart, but it is usually inconspicuous. The only 7 cm small "Western-Emerald" was a real eye-catcher, its German name with "Gould's West Andean emerald hummingbird" sounds a bit clumsy for the noble highlight in nature. The smallest species on my list of bird species is the purple-throated star hummingbird. Only adult males have the eponymous detail (3rd picture). Much more often than those I saw the completely differently drawn females and young birds (right). With their typical facial coloring and color contrasts, these were no less appealing. In the soaring flight, the only 6 cm small birds sometimes reminded of insects. This is another reason why the tiny creatures were repeatedly the focus of my attention. At 13 cm, the brown-bellied hermit is twice as large as the male of the purple-throated star hummingbird, which of course also includes the ornamental feathers on the tail (picture 1 and 2 from left). In contrast to the last species, the sexes are the same in him. Another long, but mostly dark green-looking, close relative is the blue-tailed hermit (3rd picture). The rust-red tail in the right picture, together with the red beak, is an unmistakable characteristic of the brown-tailed macilia. This 9 cm large species was particularly common in the Alambi hummingbird paradise and was absent from the Bellavista Lodge located higher up.

In addition to the brown-tailed mazilia (left), the same-sized and otherwise closely related Andean mazilia were repeatedly included in the photo yield (old and young birds in the center of the photo). The brown violet-eared hummingbird shows a mouse-gray plumage even as a colored male. Apparently this is also an effective strategy to bring out the "violet ear" and an equally glittering chin stripe.

The brilliant brown belly (left) also brought modest colors to the hummingbird paradise, in which we saw 15 species of hummingbird. The next and last 3 photos show the feeding station at the Bellavista Lodge. Although there weren't that many species here, there were some that we didn't see in "Paradise": This includes the pale-tailed hummingbird, which is shown together with two black-eared hummingbirds in the 2nd picture and individually in the 3rd picture. Another lucky hit in the hotel was the 11 cm chest-band Andean hummingbird in the last picture together with the smaller black-eared hummingbird, which I only met here. Last but not least, I would like to remind you of the telltale purple throat of a distant collar sun nymph in the forest, which I already mentioned in Part 1 of the travelogue.

The spectacular one never made it to my camera Violet-tailed Sylph, whose German name I am not yet sure of. The male has a long and colorful iridescent tail with violet and turquoise shades, which opens fork-shaped in flight (external links sitting, flying). I am pleased to have seen this special jewel.

I saw another long-tailed hummingbird on the subsequent group tour through Ecuador, which began with an overnight stay in the Hotel Las Palmeras near Otavalo. There was not only a large hotel garden there, but also a list of the birds that could be found here. In it was the black-tailed Lesbia [Lesbia Victoriae] the only Kolbri with a long tail (external link). The blue-winged hummingbird, also noted in the hotel list Pterophanes cyanopterus (external link) I have probably seen several individuals here. Unfortunately there was no feeding place and our time was extremely short. Breakfast was 7 a.m. and after that it went on. In the short time between dawn and breakfast, I wanted to see as much as possible. In addition, at that time I did not expect that there would generally be few opportunities to observe hummingbirds.

In any case, the almost overwhelming presence of the great violet-eared hummingbird in an Indian village near Otavalo, where we were housed with families, is worth mentioning. Standing on the laundry roof early in the morning, I heard his noticeable "zig" calls from all directions and wasn't really expecting a hummingbird. But right next to the house he sat in the bushes or flew around in a girl-seat-like song flight. That way he was easy to identify. We later encountered this species again in the river green corridors of the city of Cuenca.

On the Chimborazzo at an altitude of 4800 meters, a hummingbird pair of undetermined species had a nest at a shelter. There weren't many more hummingbird encounters than the ones just mentioned on the group trip. This was probably less due to the absence of the birds, but more to the frequent change of location and thus to the lack of observation time, especially early in the morning. Without our private 4-day pre-program in Bellavista, I would have been disappointed with hummingbird observations.

List of the bird species I observed in Bellavista