Far more exciting than little brown jobs and more diagnostically challenging than waders the Hummingbirds provide the birdwatcher with plenty to enjoy and plenty to learn.
They form the family Trochilidae, often placed somewhere close to the Swifts in traditional classifications and depending on how they are lumped or split there are somewhere between 325 and 340 species.
They tend to be small, most are in the range 7.5 to 13 cm. They are the only birds that can fly backwards when they want to. Their energy requirements are very high, their payload isn’t so they run on a very tight energy budget. They have some special adaptations, such as the ability to enter a state of torpor, to bridge non feeding periods. Despite the challenges some species make long migration flights. They meet their energy requirements from a diet of nectar and the remainder of their nutrition is from insects.
Humming birds are only found in the Americas, a few make it as far north as Alaska and as far south as Southern Chile but the species diversity is highest in tropical central and South America. Colombia alone has more than 160 and the small country of Ecuador has about 130 species. Ber van Perlo lists 80 for Brazil.
Part of the challenge in identification of Hummingbirds is due to the way their colours are made. Much of their colour is structural in origin, the play of light on the prisms within their feathers can turn a dull bird into a blaze of glory. They pose a considerable problem for the illustrator.
Here are a few that I photographed in Brazil …