The Day I Held a Hummingbird

Over the past weekend, eight other students in the environmental science class and I went to a part of Costa Rica called Cerro de la Muerte, or Hill of Death, to examine how much hummingbird feeders affect pollination.  No one is exactly sure why it is called Cerro de la Muerte, but there have been many accidents on the road going up to it, so that is a possibility.  It also could be describing the weather conditions in comparison to the rest of Costa Rica.  The temperatures at night have dipped below freezing at Cerro de la Muerte, and our humble cabins without heat helped us with a WONDERFUL good night’s sleep. 

We drove about 1.5 hours to a mountain bog to experience that type of marshy land with lots of epiphytes (plants that do not root in the ground, but up in trees).  After walking around in our black rubber boots and getting stuck in the mud, we drove another hour to La Georgina restaurant, which is a popular place for tour buses to stop in and have a nice meal.  The restaurant has plenty of flowers and feeders, resulting in hummingbirds flying all over the place.  To catch them, we would wait with our hands out until one landed, and then would simply squeeze.  That would be amazing if it was true, but unfortunately it was much less exciting, since we simply had nets up that they would fly into.  Once we caught and released them from the net, we rubbed tape along their neck to track how much pollen they were carrying on their feathers.  While holding the hummingbirds, we were able to lay them flat on the palm of our hand without closing our fingers because they thought their wings were trapped.  The point of the experiment was to see if hummingbirds have stopped going to flowers for nectar because they can get food from the feeders, resulting in a lack of pollination.

The lone night we had together was very entertaining despite not having very much to do.  I brought my guitar with me and we all had a sing-along in the restaurant.  When we left the next day, we stopped at an area called the Paramo and climbed up a small mountain for a nice lookout.  The clouds flew by us, so one minute we could see for a mile, and another we couldn’t see 100 feet out.  The final part of the trip was stopping by the side of a road to hike in 30 meters or so to a tree so big, that the hollow inside could fit six students!  Even though the trip was short, it was very informative and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to hold hummingbirds in our hands, which is something most people will never do. 

Posted by James Homan

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