We’ve spent so many hours chasing hummingbirds over the years that I was caught by surprise when one of these tiny birds turned the tables and landed on my outstretched hand. Light as a penny at about three grams, this curious little creature felt like nothing more than a puff of air. It sat staring at me as if it had a question to ask.
We were midway up the Andes mountains of Ecuador on a swing through one of the richest parts of the world for all kinds of birds, from toucans to tanagers to Andean Condors. Yet nothing came close to the treasury of hummingbirds. More than 130 species — the most found anywhere on Earth — fill the rainforests, fields and hills of northern Ecuador.
In places, there are so many hummingbird feeders that the frenzied birds can mistake you for a plant, and it turned out the bird I encountered did have a question. “He’s trying to see if you’re a flower,” said Juan Carlos Crespo, a biologist who works with the Jocotoco Foundation that was leading our group.
The sheer breadth of hummingbirds here is head-spinning. They come in every size and color, some with long trailing tails that end in tiny rudders, some with curiously long peaks that stretch the lengths of their bodies. But it’s the plumage that is most impressive. Depending on the angle, the tones change in the light, some as bright as neon, each new variety seemingly more beautiful than the last.