Costa Rica’s smallest hummingbird

The last time I posted with regard to the tiny Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla) I was still having trouble distinguishing it from a neighbouring species, the Volcano Hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula). Neither species is common here in the village, but post-nesting and the month of June seem to bring in a whole crop of hummingbird species that we don’t often see. Today I was able to study two Scintillants at very close quarters for a full half hour, and I believe my identification problems are now over.

Richard Garrigues‘ photo of a female Scintillant, below, shows the extensive rufous in the tail that seems to be the best distinguishing mark. Although the female is a tad heftier, the male weighs in at a full 2 grams and measures 2 and 1/2 inches, making it the smallest hummingbird in Costa Rica. It is a highland species, endemic here and in western Panama.


Is it a bird or is it an insect? The tiny Scintillant Hummingbird

I took a walk above Las Truchas, a beautifully located bar and trout farm at the top of the village, where there is a very large patch of thick forest that offers the prospect of species that we don’t find 150 m lower where my house is located. Despite the attractiveness of the habitat, birds of all species were totally absent for at least forty minutes as I slowly walked the path uphill. At the Orquídeas cabins, liberally surrounded by bramble patches and porterweed (rabo de gato), things began to look up. I was now away from all but a small patch of forest but Orange-billed nightingale-thrushes (Catharus aurantiirostris) were calling and I had found the first Common Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavopectus).

If you think that all those bees and butterflies are just that, bees and butterflies, you will easily miss the Scintillant Hummingbird. It nearly happened to me yet again but I suddenly found two of the little beauties right next to me in the company of a large black bee, all feeding on the nearest rabo de gato plant.  To my great delight, the first one gave me clear flashes of its throat-patch, definitely more orange than red. I’m still not sure if this was an immature male or a female. The throat was mostly speckled, which is a mark of the female, but this bird had just a small, bright-orange patch on the lower part of the throat. One might assume, then, an immature male.  I shall investigate further in the literature on the internet. The second bird’s throat was almost fully reddish-orange, and both birds hovered and then perched conveniently on the rabo de gato, right out in the open next to me.

To identify the Scintillant, you look for a tiny hummer with no white band above the tail (coquettes), a white collar and a mostly rufous tail. It’s icing on the cake if you get to see the gorget.

Emerald toucanet (1)Web

An Emerald Toucanet in full sun, courtesy of Karel Straatman

The last forest patch on the way back down held numerous local species, most notably a beautiful pair of Emerald Toucanets (Aulachorhynchus prasinus), a couple of Mountain Thrushes (Turdus plebejus), and a White-naped Brush-finch (Atlapetes albinucha), none of which can be reliably found lower down in the village.

One thought on “Costa Rica’s smallest hummingbird

  1. Gosh I’m so jealous that you get to see all of these…I sure do miss them. But being in Australia there are so many tropical birds that still blow my mind. Seeing the sulfur crested cockatoos flying over is always great and the rainbow lorikeets within arms distance is such a treat. I had a kookaburra take meat out of my hand the other day (those funny bobblehead birds!!). Wish you could be here to see all of them!!


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