Who has not been enchanted by photos or sightings of these iridescent mini-rockets of energy known as hummingbirds? They were described by the Aztec as tiny suns, and have been accorded their place in legend, story and song throughout the centuries. People have called them flying jewels; most male hummingbirds possess iridescent gorgets, or throat feathers, whose colors shift depending on the sunlight shining on them. Additionally, many species also have exotic crowns, distinctive tails, and sparkling iridescent wings.
Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, ranging in size from the Bee Hummingbird, at 5.7 cm, to the Giant Hummingbird, at 21.6 cm. Hummingbirds are among the most skilled fliers of all avian species. They can fly backward, hover, fly straight up, and quickly change direction.
Hummingbirds are pollinators. They drink nectar from flowers with their long tongues, and some catch insects as well, snatching them midair as they fly. Many have bills that are perfectly adapted to particular species of flowers, so that the plant and the hummingbird have an interdependent relationship that is mutually beneficial to both species.
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in the world. They are native to the Americas, with most species found in South America. Peru has over 118 species of hummingbirds, or colibris, which translates as “Birds of the Sun God.” In Quechua they are known as Q’inti (pronounced Keen-tee). According to one Quechua legend, when all the Earth was suffering from lack of water, and the People, animals and plants were all dying, a tiny hummingbird arose from the last flor de Cantu, and implored the God Waitapallana to save the land and its creatures. Even though he died in the process, the hummingbird accomplished his mission, as two great crystal teardrops fell from Waitapallana’s eyes when he saw the devastation on Earth. These tears awoke the serpent, Amaru, who was dreaming at the bottom of a lake, and who, upon shaking his great wings, brought rain back to the Earth.
Some hummingbird species found in Peru are: the Sparkling Violet Ear, Giant Hummingbird, Green-tailed trainbearer, Booted Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph and White-bellied Woodstar.
In addition to being a haven for hummingbirds, Peru is the second most diverse country on Earth for bird species in general, with 1,710 species at last count, and more continuing to be discovered.