MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — Just a few steps outside the cloud forest in Monteverde lays a small, private reserve where hummingbirds can drink sweet sugar water from suspended flower-shaped feeders.
Our group visited the Hummingbird Gallery as we waited for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to open early this morning. We were fortunate enough to have our guide, Ricardo Guidon, with us at the gallery to explain the complexities of the hummingbird as we stood amidst the frenzied birds gathering at the feeders.
Despite hummingbirds being unique to the Americas they have the second highest variation of bird species — many of which are endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica.
The violet sabrewing, for example, is the largest hummingbird found in Costa Rica. This allows it to dominate food sources by virtue of its sheer size. The front of this sabrewing appears violet, however in different lighting its feathers look a dark shade of green.
Hummingbird feathers are iridescent, meaning they are structured to reflect light and produce the appearance of color. In reality, most hummingbird feathers are brown or white.
Because nectar forms deep in the bells of flowers, hummingbirds have unique beaks and tongues that allow them to consume the greatest amount of nectar possible with each lick. Once a hummingbird pokes its beak into the center of a flower a long tongue with specialized grooves that split into filaments at the tip laps up the nectar.
Hummingbirds play an important role in pollinating flowers by feeding on naturally sweet nectar and inadvertently picking up pollen grains with their feathers. The hummingbirds then transport the pollen grains as they flit from flower to flower in search of more nectar.
Providing sugar water to hummingbirds in reserves is controversial because critics believe this practice may negatively affect the environment. When hummingbirds drink from feeders they do not come into direct contact with flowers and therefore fail to pollinate as many flowers as they would normally. Sugar water is also an unnatural food source and could cause an increase in the hummingbird population that might be harmful for the forest.
— Amy Esker