Colour! Energy! Movement! Excitement! These are all words that describe the yearly Carnival festival for which Trinidad and Tobago is well known. But they can also describe another well known feature of our country – our hummingbirds. So I suppose I was celebrating a different kind of Carnival when I took advantage of the day off from work on Carnival Monday to visit a very interesting hummingbird project right here in Trinidad. It was named after the Amerindian word for the hummingbird – Yerettê.
Nestled in the Maracas Valley, Yerettê is the brainchild of one of Trinidad and Tobago’s well known bird photographers, Dr. Theodore Ferguson. What began as an experiment with one feeder has now become an attraction for birdwatchers and the Ferguson’s unassuming patio is now lined with hummingbird feeders. With the help of his wife Gloria, it has quickly become one of the best sites in the country to observe our hummingbirds. Indeed, twelve of Trinidad and Tobago’s seventeen species of hummingbirds have so far been recorded at Yerettê. Just as remarkable is the sheer number of birds that regularly flood the area and they can easily number in their hundreds. So, with such good odds in my favor, I arrived at Yerettê that morning hoping to see all twelve of them.
The Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) was one of the more noticeable hummingbird species at the feeders that day. This hummingbird is common in a wide range of habitats at all levels. Larger than most of Trinidad and Tobago’s hummingbirds, Black-throated Mangos are sexually dimorphic – which means that the sexes are visibly different. Males have a black throat that is bordered by iridescent blue when seen in proper lighting.
Female birds are very easy to identify, thanks to their bold chest markings of black and white.
But that flash of white may also have been a White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora).
Unlike the previous species, this hummingbird shows a clear preference for forests and is often seen feeding at flowers in the canopy of forest trees on both islands. The male Jacobin has a dark blue head and a white belly. They have white tail feathers and several were seen that morning, spreading their tails in flight when displaying to other Jacobins.
Immature males, like the one shown here, have a noticeable brown patch on their faces while females have a very scaly appearance and lack the male’s stunning blue head.
Another forest dwelling hummingbird there that morning was the magnificently iridescent Blue-chinned Sapphire (Chlorestes notata).
Its metallic green plumage shone brightly when in the proper lighting. So too does its blue chin from which the bird’s name is derived. While it is common in Trinidad it has not been recorded in Tobago for decades.
The Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) is a widespread inhabitant of forested areas in Trinidad. It is not present in Tobago.
True to its name, its bill is quite long relative to our other local hummingbird species. The above photograph, unfortunately, does not capture the gorgeous blue cap and ruby throat of the male.
Don’t let this photograph fool you either.
This remarkably tame immature male Tufted Coquette (Lophornis ornatus) does little to reflect the fantastic plumage of adult males which is not unlike the ornate Carnival costumes that crossed the stage of Dimanche Gras the night before (Click here to see an adult male in plumage). This is Trinidad’s smallest hummingbird and, at 2.3 grams, it is the second smallest hummingbird in the entire world. It is not found in Tobago.
One of the more common species at Yerettê that morning was the Copper-rumped Hummingbird (Amazilia tobaci).
Indeed, this hummingbird is a familiar sight throughout Trinidad and Tobago. They are identified by their bronze-coloured lower back and steel blue tail feathers. Like many hummingbirds, it quickly becomes accustomed to human activity and will often allow a very close approach.
Another very common hummingbird at the feeders was the White-chested Emerald (Amazilia brevirostris).
It is rather sedately plumaged compared to its relatives – males and females are similar in appearance, having predominantly emerald green upperparts with a white chest and belly. It is found in much the same range of habitats as the Copper-rumped Hummingbird, but is not found in Tobago.
If looking at a Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird (Chrysolampis mosquitus) in bad light, you would be excused for thinking that the bird was a rather dull brown.
However, if seen in the right light, the glowing topaz throat and ruby red crown are at once apparent. The Ruby-Topaz is equally at home at higher elevations as it is at sea level and it inhabits a wide range of environments from gardens to dry scrub to forest to swamp.
Also seen that day were all three members of the Hermit family – represented on our islands by the Rufous-breasted, Green and Little Hermits. These hummingbirds are more at home in the forest undergrowth and seem to shun the open sunlit areas of the Ferguson’s garden, preferring to feed at the shaded feeders instead (as a result I was unable to get any good photographs).
The only one of Yerettê’s species that I did not see that morning was, unsurprisingly, the rarest. The Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae) is a rarely seen resident of Trinidad and Tobago’s forests. Usually only a few sightings of this bird are reported in the country each year and Yerette has been fortunate to have had them make an appearance at the feeders occasionally.
Nevertheless, it was a remarkable way to spend a Carnival Monday morning, watching these jeweled revelers of the sky. And there are other hummingbird species that the Fergusons still hope to one day see in their garden. The Blue-tailed Emerald and the rare Rufous-shafted Woodstar are both possible candidates. They should not be too surprised if they see me in their garden again as well.