For a bird so small, the hummingbird packs in a lot of superlatives. It has the largest brain per body in the bird kingdom: studies claim that hummingbirds remember every single flower in their territory and how long it takes to replenish nectar after foraging. It has the fastest metabolic rate of any living creature. Their hearts beat on an average of 1,200 times per minute, pumping furiously to keep up with their wing speed. As most of us know, hummingbirds are fast, so fast that their wings are a blur to humans when they are in flight. But few are aware that they are among the fastest species on Earth, far outstripping the cheetah in terms of pace. In fact, research studies have revealed that a species called Anna’s Hummingbird can hit speeds that are faster than a jet fighter at full speed.
But perhaps the most winning feature of hummingbirds is that they are captivating, even without the general knowledge download. Their grace and iridescent plumage, changing with every movement, are a delight to watch, especially when they are foraging for nectar. The visual spectacle was one of the reasons that wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee wanted to shoot them in Ecuador, South America.
He chose the Chocó region, which has the highest diversity of hummingbird species on the planet. The slim strip of forest on the western edge of Ecuador is wedged between the Andean mountains and the Pacific Ocean, creating a tropical habitat that is lush and unique. Isolated from the rest of the Amazon by the Andes, Chocó has developed a number of indigenous species of hummingbirds, designed to thrive in this ecosystem.
Over many millennia the hummingbirds in this region have evolved into numerous sub-species, each feeding on a specific group of flowers. This reduces competition, allowing them to co-exist within the rainforest, but also makes them more vulnerable to habitat loss. Clear the native forest and the hummingbirds are at a loss. In many cases, they simply cannot feed, because their bodies and beaks have been designed for the blooms of particular plants.
Thankfully, there are a reserves in Chocó working for their survival. Within these protected forests, hummingbirds spend their days gathering nectar, nesting, and caring for their young in the primary forests they have occupied for thousands of years, and hopefully, will continue to live for thousands more.