With its unrivaled geographical diversity, ranging from coastal deserts to highland grasslands, cloud forests and lowland rainforest, Peru is home to an extraordinary ornithological diversity, with new species being discovered every year throughout the country. In fact, some 42 of Peru’s known bird species were first described by science during the past thirty years. To date, more than 1800 bird species have been recorded within Peruvian territory, representing almost 20% of the entire planet’s known species. Of these, more than 300 species are endemic to Peru.
The exceptionally biologically diverse Tambopata National Reserve is a true paradise for birdwatchers, with more than 630 species having been identified within the protected tropical forests of the Tambopata area.
One of the most delightful denizens of Peru’s bird world is the hummingbird, and over 120 species have been recorded within the nation’s territory, representing more than one third of the total of 343 known members of this exclusively New World genus.
Hummingbirds are small birds, ranging from a tiny 2.2 grams in weight to up to 20 grams among larger species. They are remarkable for their ability to hover in mid-air when feeding, by flapping their wings extremely rapidly. Incomparably maneuverable, they are the only birds able to fly backwards. Such aerobatic feats are made possible by their unique wing movement -they can beat their wings in a circular motion, rather than merely flapping them up and down- and by the unusual form of their spine, which contains many more neck vertebrae than other bird species. Interestingly, hummingbirds are unable to walk: they use their feet exclusively for perching. Proportionally, the brains of hummingbirds are large, and scientific studies have shown that they are intelligent and possess an excellent memory, an essential trait for territorial birds which return again and again to a host of locations when feeding.
The highly itinerant nature of hummingbirds and their surface area to mass ratio mean that they require a high energy diet in order to remain active and maintain body temperature, and to address this need they feed almost exclusively on the nectar they are able to gather from flowering plants. They will feed several times a day, consuming up to three times their own bodyweight and constantly patrolling their territory in search of nectar and to protect it from other hummingbirds.
In the bird-rich rainforests of Tambopata National Reserve and our own Tambopata Ecolodge Private Conservation Area, hummingbirds are often seen along trails. They have excellent color vision and are particularly attracted by red. If you see a red flower amongst the greenery, such as Aphelandra sp., it will almost certainly also attract the attention of a hummingbird. A tip when on rainforest trails: anyone wearing something red may be mistaken for a large flower by one of the ten or so species of hummingbird that frequent the Tambopata area, resulting in a close encounter with these aerial acrobats.