There are roughly 10,000 species of birds spread across the globe, with half living in the Amazon. Because of this, South America nicknamed the "bird continent," according to mongabay.com. Among the population are hummingbirds, a type of bird found only in the New World. They are related to the Old World's sunbird. More than 300 species of hummingbirds can be found in the rainforest.
Size distinguishes hummingbirds from most other species. According to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the average hummingbird measures between 2.25 inches and 8.5 inches. Hummingbirds are also distinguished by long, needle-thin, pointed beaks and by their sharp movements as they zip from flower to flower, propelled by the unusual ability to rotate their wings through a 180-degree cycle, making the movement a blur to the naked eye.
Myth and Significance
Rainforest hummingbirds were frequent characters in Native American lore. A Mayan myth claims that the sun disguised itself as a hummingbird while vying for the attention of a beautiful woman who was disguised as the moon. Another Mayan legend states that hummingbirds once pierced the tongues of kings. The blood would be poured on venerated scrolls and cast into fires, resulting in ancestors appearing in smokey whorls and giving the rulers insight and warnings. The Aztecs believed that the hummingbird gave fire to the human race, while Aztec priests revered the jewel-colored birds so much that they decorated staves with their feathers and used them as talismans against evil.
The only hummingbird to have breeding grounds in the eastern quadrant of North America, the ruby-throated hummingbird, annually migrates roughly 600 miles to the rainforest of Central America to thrive. Only the the male ruby-throated hummingbird has crimson feathers scattered across its throat. Both genders have coppery green feathers on their bodies, but males have green on the sides of their torsos while the females have brown. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds to breed in North America, along the eastern seaboard. A recent rainforest discovery was the gorgeted puffleg. It was found in 2005 in a cloud forest, which is also known as a fog forest. Located in tropic or subtropical regions, cloud forests are extensions of rainforests, with low-level clouds lingering in the canopy tree line, creating a moist, misty ambiance. Discovered in Columbia, the black hummingbird with a green and blue coloring along the throat, the gorgeted puffleg is 4 inches long. According to BirdLife International, it is believed that the species has survived in secrecy for so long because it stays in a small isolated area in the Serrania del Pinche region of Columbia.
Diet and Function
While feeding themselves, hummingbirds also feed rainforest plant life. By flitting from flower to flower in search of nectar, they act as pollinators, supplying the flowers with food. This process works because pollen sticks to the bodies of hummingbirds while they drink nectar, and rubs off on the next flower they land on. In addition to nectar, hummingbirds also eat spiders and gnats to bulk up on protein.
The slash-and-burn razing of the rainforest coupled with the farming of coca, (the crude element for cocaine) has begun to eat away at the rainforest hummingbird habitat. The rainforest supplies natural menaces as well. Hawks and praying mantis insects feed on hummingbirds, as do bullfrogs and large spiders known as orb-weavers. Because of these perils, and the hummingbird's vulnerability, many do not survive their first year, according to a-z-animals.com.