Hummingbird harems – or leks – are the hippy communes of the bird world. Up to 100 males congregate in the lek colony and carve out their turf – which may simply be a perch on a petal. Then, the singing begins – both solo and chorus performances – with the sole aim of attracting females into the lek.
After singing their praises, the male hummers then dance for the apple of their eye. Flashing their gorgets (colourful patch of throat feathers), the courtship continues. With avian swagger, they puff out their chests, bop their heads from side to side and “dance” in the air, showing off their tail feathers. Think of a winged Mick Jagger.
If the female is impressed, the mating ritual is consummated. While hummingbird breeding occurs year round in Belize, the height of breeding takes place when flowers are in profusion. Look for hummingbird leks in Belize on the forest floor, in a clearing or on a slope under the canopy. As few as 3 male hummingbirds may form a lek so you have to be eagle-eyed to spot a hummer harem. Belize’s Western Long-tailed Hermits are an example of lek-breeders. Research evinced shows that leks are formed just before sunrise – so the early bird gets the bird.
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, one of the hummingbird species found in Belize, is not a lek-breeder. The males do mate with more than one female hummer, but not in Belize. They reserve their mating cycle to the spring and summer months in North America.
However, the courtship rituals of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – and many other Belize hummingbirds – are a sight to behold. In a flamboyant display of artistry and skill, males skyrocket up to 50 feet in the air and then dive downwards up to 60 mph, with wings flapping up to 200 times per second, registering a G-force almost nine times that of gravity. They put on the brakes and pull a sharp U-turn upwards just before contact. This U-turn wooing is repeated again and again.
When they’re not pulling U-turns or humming in their harems, hummers are out scouting for food – efficiently and intelligently.
You can expect a little rocket science from hummers – they have the biggest brain of all birds. Although their brains are 7,000 times smaller than ours, their brain to body weight ratio is 4.2% versus 2% for that of a 150-pound person. Bird brains, they are not. Hummingbirds remember every flower visited and how long it takes the plant to replenish pollen and nectar.
While most birds seek out food sources by means of the visual spectrum only, hummingbirds can also detect ultraviolet patterns in flowers. The ultraviolet reflectance acts like a neon sign, advertising the location of pollen and nectar in the flower.
As polygamists go, they are great pollinators.
There are about 348 species of hummingbirds in the world, with 26 species zipping through the airways of Belize. If you’re a birder and long to see a Green-breasted Mango, Purple-crowned Fairy or Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, pack your binocs and book a trip to Belize.
For a chance to view some of Belize’s hummingbirds – up close and personal – visit the Better in Belize Eco-Community in the foothills of the Mayan Mountains. You’ll see them whizzing through the understory and canopy of this spectacular Belize rainforest community. You might even be lucky enough to view their dazzling, dive-bombing display.
Candee Tremblay is a freelance writer and Marketing Director of Better in Belize EcoVillage. Better in Belize is a 130-acre eco-village in Belize, nestled in the foothills of the Maya Mountains in Western Belize. With lots starting at only US$21,000*, discover how you can “Live Better….in Belize”.
*Prices and availability subject to change without notice.
Copyright © 2012 by Candee Tremblay, Better in Belize Eco-Community All Rights Reserved