One of the great privileges of living in a tropical country is the near constant presence of nesting birds. One of my favorites is the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, which nests in my yard for most of the year.
One of the
great privileges of living in a tropical country is the near constant presence
of nesting birds. Due to the lack of well–defined seasons, many birds nest throughout the year. One of my favorites
is the Rufous–tailed Hummingbird, which nests in my yard for most of the
year. With a little keen observation and a lot of patience, their tiny nests
aren’t too hard to find, and then they can be observed and studied until the
Rufous–tailed Hummingbird is by far the most common
hummingbirds in Costa Rica. It is quite vocal for a hummingbird, and often
fights. It also prefers disturbed habitats, like gardens, yards, and secondary
growth, which are coincidentally what many humans prefer, as well. On top of
all that, Rufous–tailed will also eagerly visit hummingbird feeders and
many different types of flowers. All these factors combined makes Rufous-tailed
Hummingbird conspicuous and well known to the general population.
Rufous–tailed Hummingbird is medium–sized
hummers, about 4.5 inches from beak to tip of tail. To put it in perspective, it
is a bit larger than Ruby–throated or Broad–tailed hummingbird. On
the top, it is pretty drab – its black-tipped, coral red bill protrudes
from an overall greenish upper body. The wings are charcoal colored; the belly
is light gray. The tail, however, is the real attraction of this hummingbird.
The bright rufous tail outlined in black shines like fire every time the sun
catches it. In bad light, the green and gray parts of Rufous–tailed turn
black, but never the tail.
Female Rufous–tailed Hummingbirds are entirely responsible for
nest building and incubation. They build tiny cup nests on thin, forked
branches. The cup itself is constructed out of woven grasses, plant fibers, and
spider webs, and then coated on the inside with down. The outside is often
completely covered in lichens and mosses, which are just for show. (Rufous–taileds
are quite the exterior decorators.) From my measurements of abandoned nests,
their nests usually measure 3.5–4.5 centimeters wide and 2–3
centimeters tall. Preferring the cover of the undergrowth, most Rufous–taileds
nest somewhere between 1 and 4 meters off the ground.
Once nest building is complete, the female layers the bed of the nest
with down and lays two white eggs. Incubation usually takes 2–2.5 weeks,
during which time the female is almost constantly present around the nest.
After hatching, the chicks grow and live in the nest for about three weeks,
until they fledge. Even after fledging, the family tends to stay in the vicinity
of the nest during the day.
For a couple months last fall, I had a family of Rufous–tailed
Hummingbirds living in a tree next to my driveway. I found the nest by watching
a Rufous–tailed collect cobwebs from a tree outside my window and
following her back to her nest. I showed my family the nest, and then we
followed her progress throughout the next month, every time we drove in and out
of our front gate. My family and I watched them grow from tiny chicks to
maturing chicks in an amazingly short period of time. Unfortunately, we missed
their actual fledging, although we continued to see them in the next couple
weeks, first only in the trees around their nest tree, then more and more into
the yard, until they separated completely and took their own path in the world.
Overall, it was an awesome experience.
About the author: Laramie Aspegren, 16, is a young birder currently residing
in San José, Costa Rica, where he has been birding for the past couple of years. Along
with his dad, he loves traveling around Costa Rica in search of interesting
birds and exotic places. Out of all the wonderful birds of Costa Rica, his
favorite are the Typical Antbirds, for their unique songs and flashy plumages.
Laramie attended the 2011 ABA Camp Colorado.