RIGHT AS HUMMINGBIRDS

Acooperation between Aves y Conservación (BirdLife in Ecuador), MishkiYaku (Germany) and VerdeGreen Change S.A. (Ecuador)

Ecuador, despite being one of the smallest countries in South America, is considered one of the most diverse in the world. About 130 species of hummingbirds out of the 330 that exist on the American continent are found here. Due to Ecuador’s geographical location, crossed by the Andes mountain range and the equator, there is a variety of ecosystems.  From sea level to over 4000 metres in the Andes there are particular vegetation types providing different food resources for hummingbirds, which generate specific relationships and great diversity. For example, in the Metropolitan District of Quito, up to 55 species of hummingbirds can be found.

WHAT CATCHES OUR ATTENTION

Hummingbirds are only present in the Americas. The Kichwa name for hummingbird is «Quinde», these small birds can measure up to 5 cm and weigh as little as 2 grams, as is the case of the Cuban Helena hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae – the smallest bird in the world). Their range of sizes also varies, with the largest known hummingbird, the Giant Hummingbird Patagona gigas, measuring almost 23 cm and weighing up to 18 grams.

These small, bright birds differ in several ways from the rest, making them amazing unique birds. Generally, what strikes us most are their iridescent colours. These are the result of the structure of the feathers which contain small particles that reflect specific segments of the light spectrum, giving rise to the bright and vivid colours that constantly change depending on the angle of incidence of the light.

Estrellita Ventriblanca, Chaetocercus mulsant
Photo: Juan Carlos Valarez

They have fine beaks of various sizes and shapes, adapted to feed on flower nectar through their long, forked tongues. The beaks of hummingbirds are a work of natural engineering as they also allow themto catch insects in small fractions of a second and even serve to defend their territory from other hummingbirds.

Pico de Hoz Colihabano, Eutoxeres condamini
Photo: Aves y Conservación

Metalura Tiria, Metallura tyrianthina
Foto: Cristian Poveda

Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly in all directions, even in reverse, beating their wings about 60 to 80 times per second, which allows them to float in the air; this ability has been developed to access the nectar that is normally at the base of the flowers. A hummingbird can visit up to 2000 different flowers in a single day.
Hummingbirds, the warm-blooded animals that require the most energy to survive, have the largest heart in proportion to their body and can beat up to 1200 times per minute. Due to their high-energy demand, many hummingbirds enter a torpor state, which allows them to survive very cold temperatures and periods of inactivity, especially at night. In this state, they lower their body temperature and metabolism, saving the energy needed to wake up.

FUNCIÓN EN LA NATURALEZA

These and other characteristics make hummingbirds supernatural birds as Dr. Fernando Ortiz Crespo, the first Ecuadorian ornithologist, called them. However, beyond their beauty, hummingbirds fulfil a very important function as pollinators being part of an intricate network of interactions contributing not only on a large scale ecologically but also economically for human beings. Hummingbirds help maintain the genetic diversity of local plant populations because they travel farther than other pollinators, spreading pollen among different populations. In addition, they can pollinate in cold, wet conditions when most insects are dormant.

Colibrí Jaspeado, Adelomyia melanogenys
Photo: Juan Carlos Valarezo

Mango Gorjinegro, Anthracothorax nigricollis
Photo: Juan Carlos Valarezo

THREATS

Hummingbird numbers are declining, like those of other pollinators, mainly due to human activities that cause the destruction and fragmentation of the forests where they live, and to climate change that may modify the distribution and abundance of ornithophilous plants (tubular, brightly coloured flowers that produce nectar). The spread of invasive plants, the use of pesticides, and illegal trafficking are other potential threats. Declines in hummingbird populations and changes in their movements can negatively affect their role in ecosystems and, in turn, plant and animal biodiversity.

Land use change: conversion of forest to cropland

Photo: Aves y Conservación

Among the main threats to hummingbirds in Ecuador are land use change to intensive agricultural and livestock systems, timber extraction, infrastructure projects, use of agrochemicals, unattended pets (cats), and poorly handled hummingbird feeders, among others. 

Deforestation to expand livestock grazing and charcoal production in the habitat of the Endangered Black-breasted Puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis) in the upper area of the Intag valley, Imbabura.

Photo: Juan Carlos Valarezo

OUR PROJECT ¿HOW CAN WE CONTRIBUTE TO THEIR PROTECTION?

Silfo Colivioleta, Aglaiocercus coelestis
Photo: Juan Carlos Valarezo

Like all birds, hummingbirds have basic needs for places to live, flowers that produce nectar to feed on (not all flowers produce flowers and not all flowers produce nectar), water, shelter and space to forage and reproduce.

Under this principle, our project seeks to develop an Action Plan for the Conservation of Hummingbirds of Ecuador as a tool to guide research, conservation and development projects, edu-communication and citizen participation. In particular, our interest within the action plan is to implement local proposals focused on the generation of information, restoration and propagation of native plants, creation of environmental awareness promoting the participation and inclusion of minority groups. In addition, to promote the cooperation of agencies and institutions (governmental and private) for the conservation of key hummingbird ecosystems. We will soon have several projects that we will be supporting and in which you can get involved.

To receive more information about this project, please write to:

 

Tatiana Santander:

tsantander@avesconservacion.org

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