The Caribbean island of Trinidad, the southernmost island of the Caribbean that sits provocatively close to Venezuela (11 km) is known as the ‘Land of the Hummingbird’. The earliest settlers were Amerindians who named Trinidad Iere, the Land of the Hummingbird. Amerindians, the early conservationists, considered the hummingbird holy and anyone who killed the bird was assured a place in hell. They also called the hummingbird Yerette.
Hummingbirds are amazing little creatures. They are tiny, mighty, fast, mean at mating, and big-brained. Hummingbirds are the second largest family of birds about 350 species. A total of 19 species of hummingbirds can be found in Trinidad alone.
Known as the ‘Land of the Hummingbird’, there are three National Birds of Trinidad and Tobago: the Scarlet Ibis, the Cocrico (endemic to Tobago) and the hummingbird. All three birds are on the nation’s coat of arms. With the almost 500 (487) bird species with a landmass of 1980 sq miles, ranking it number 2 in the world in terms of bird densities, Trinidad and Tobago is definitely spoilt for choice.
No other birds can fly like hummingbirds. They are the only birds that can fly like a helicopter – forward, backward, and even upside down! Hummingbirds are also the only vertebrae capable of hovering for a period of time during flight. In fact, hummingbirds are better than helicopters. The helicopter cannot fly upside down like hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are agile and have speed and stamina. They have been clocked at nearly 30 mph in direct flight and more than 45 mph during courtship dives. They are able to dive up to 50 miles per hour. The average life span of a hummingbird is 5 years, but they have been known to live for more than 10 years.
Hummingbirds are tiny, but mighty. Hummingbirds are the smallest and fastest species of birds on the planet. They fly like a helicopter and are fierce when mating. A hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 times per minute.
Hummingbirds are known to travel over 2,000 miles twice a year during their migration.
Hummingbirds are mean at mating. They can put up a good fight. They do not mate for life and each male bird will mate with many different females each season. Like a lot of bird species, it’s the female bird who chooses the male she wants to mate with. Their smart mating rituals include deep dives and other aerial displays, beating wings, orienting their courtship capturing as much light on their magnificent colours – all of this for the actual mating that lasts 3-5 seconds, after which the male flies off to do start the charade all over again.
Interestingly, only female hummingbirds build nests and will lay only two eggs. The male hummingbird is not involved in raising young, as females will not allow them to come close to their young. The rufus-breasted hermit male hummingbird, also found in Trinidad, is an exception as he helps to build nests and take care of the young. Trinidad males will do good to follow this lead. A baby hummingbird is roughly the size of a penny and is unable to fly and will stay in the nest for approximately three weeks.
A hummingbird’s brain makes up 4.2 percent of its weight; proportionally, that’s the largest of any bird’s. By comparison, our brains are two percent of our body weight. Hummingbirds can remember migration routes and every flower they’ve ever visited. They can also figure out how long to wait between visits so the flowers have time to generate more nectar. They can even recognize humans!
Hummingbirds have awesome beauty – the combination of colour, speed and intelligence make this species of birds beautiful and amazing. Hummingbirds are attracted to all bright colours, although red is most prominently associated with these tiny birds.
Hummingbirds (family Trochilidae) are amazingly adapted pollinators, and they play an important role in pollination, allowing plants to flourish and multiply naturally. They have long, slender bills and tube-like tongues that they use to drink nectar from brightly-coloured flowers; this gives them the energy they need to fuel their high metabolism. Hummingbirds have tongues that are grooved like the shape of a “W”. and they have tiny hairs on the tips of their tongues to help them lap up nectar, similar to a cat.
Hummingbirds have no sense of smell, but can hear better than humans. Hummingbirds have vision in ultraviolet light and they can see further than a human. And they have a great memory – they remember every flower & feeder they’ve been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill.
When food is scarce and they are fatigued, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state (also known as torpor) to conserve energy. They go into a deep sleep/torpor to survive the night.
In the Yerette Hummingbird Sanctuary (Maracas Valley), you will find hundreds of hummingbirds busy eating, mating and sipping nectar from the red feeders in Theo and Gloria Ferguson’s beautiful estate. Of the 19 species of hummingbirds, at least 15 can be found in Yerette.
Photography and Captions: Theodore Ferguson, Yerette, Trinidad. A special ‘Thank You’ to Theodore Ferguson for his invaluable insights.