In a Costa Rican garden: Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tlacatl): Amazilia colirrufa; Ariane à ventre gris; Braunschwanzamazilie

The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is probably the commonest hummer in the country and thus is taken as the standard by which all others of the more than 50 species found in Costa Rica are to be measured. It is found in all regions and at even the highest elevations. At 4″ in size it is considered a ‘medium-sized’ hummingbird. It has a repetitive early morning twitter, delivered from a perch, that I rarely hear at other times of the day.

Male Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at Ujarrás; photo by John Beer

Male birds can be recognized by their red bills, particularly the upper mandible, which is never red in the female.

Male Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at rest in Santa Rosa de Turrialba; photo by John Beer

It is a very pugnacious species that spends much energy chasing competitors, mostly of the same species, away from its food sources.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird: This is probably the same male as above, here neatly displaying the tail feathers; photo by John Beer

As with all hummingbirds, plumage can vary depending on the light. However, the female Rufous-tailed can be distinguished from the male if the upper mandible is clearly seen, as in the sequence below:

Female Rufous-tailed Hummingbird with red restricted to the lower mandible, and chiefly the base; photo by John Beer
Female Rufous-tailed Hummingbird showing mottled throat and tail feathers in good light; photo by John Beer

Nests are tiny but beautifully constructed. Even though there is probably more than one nest in my garden throughout most of the year, I have rarely been able to locate them. John has had better luck, finding the one in the next image at the Refugio La Marta:

Female Rufous-tailed hummingbird on nest at La Marta, near Pejibaye; photo by John Beer

….and this one in his garden at Santa Rosa de Turrialba:

Female sitting on eggs at Santa Rosa de Turrialba; photo by John Beer

In our area, as in many other parts of the country, the locals call this particular hummingbird species el gurrión. This comes from the Spanish word for ‘sparrow’, el gorrión. Everyday names for birds are not be relied upon because they vary from region to region in all countries of the world, and owing to the possible confusion Costa Rican birdwatchers very sensibly use either the Latin binomial or, in some cases, the accepted English term. Strangely, and despite a couple of hours of research, I have not yet discovered to my satisfaction the origin of the Latin name for the genus Amazilia. The species name tzacatl also has a touch of mystery. It comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and of other Nahua indigenous groups to the north of Costa Rica. It means ‘person’, ‘human being’ or ‘man’.

See My Pages for my San Antonio Checklist recording all my local hummingbird sightings.

See Stiles & Skutch (A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica) for fairly authoritative Spanish names for Costa Rican species.

6 thoughts on “In a Costa Rican garden: Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

  1. Thank you John for your posts. I take special interest on the birds to identify near your house since we live nearby. I live up in Santa Cruz de Turrialba, Calle Vargas, close to San Antonio. Over the years we have been trying to plant native trees on our 8-acre farm in the hopes of attracting a variety of birds. I plan to use this hummingbird information to match up with the hummingbirds we see up on our finca here.

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  2. My post was a bit confusing. I intended to thank John Beer for the hummingbird photos and say howdy to our neighbor Paul Pickering and say I appreciate his blog!

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  3. Wonderful post! How are things in Santa Rosa in view of the pandemic? Are you so far removed that you have no worries, or have you seen cases in your area? As “senior citizens” we have been extra cautious and have quarantined to avoid exposure. We just moved from Phoenix to Oceanside CA for the summer to avoid the heat. Love your posts!

    Sue Crabb

    Sent from my iPhone

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