Thursday, 21 November 2013

A surprise farewell visitor

Sadly, at the end of October we had to leave Colombia for a while to return to the UK. The wildlife and especially the birding have left a big impression - leaving will create a hole in my life that will be hard to fill.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 
Since putting up the hummingbird feeders, and attracting many Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds (Amazilia tzacatl) I had dreamed it might be possible to attract something unusual like a Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia castaneiventris). Some of the Rufous-tailed are rather grey below and I sometimes imagined they looked a little like the endangered Chestnut-belled, which is of course chestnut-brown below.

Although this dream was somewhat fanciful, one had been photographed at a country-club to the north of Piedecuesta. That is only something like 15 km from our apartment.

To my great surprise, just 3 days before vacating the apartment, a magnificent little visitor arrived out of the blue and landed on the balcony - a young Amazilia hummer, but very light brown coloured.

 It seemed to be an immature bird - moulting, it could not fly strongly and its tail-feathers appeared to be still growing. Furthermore it was incredibly tame. I was able to approach it and gently touch it with my fingertips whilst it remained perched on the balcony railing. I could have easily picked it up in my cupped hands. I got the macro-lens on the camera, got plenty of close-ups with the lens was touching its beak at one point. It hung around all day, and the next, was feeding regularly, and it appeared to be healthy. It was lucky not to be harassed by other hummers, but it could hop over to visit to neighbouring balconies whose owners have hung out feeders after seeing the success of mine.

At first I thought it must be a juvenile Rufous-tailed.Posting the shots to Facebook, a local birder suggested it looked alot like the Chestnut-bellied. Not trying to get too excited, I sent the shots to a Colombian expert who has previously studied this species - one of the world's authorities - Oswaldo Cortés. He rapidly confirmed that it was indeed a Chesntut-bellied, but he was rather surprised it was perched on my balcony!
The wonderfully vibrant chestnut-bellied hummingbird has a glittering golden-green throat and chest, and bronze-green upperparts. As its common name suggests, the belly is a chestnut colour that extends to the tail, and fades to buff on the rump. This small hummingbird has a straight, medium-sized, blackish bill, with a red base, while inconspicuous white feathers give the legs a ‘fluffy’ appearance. The female is similar to the male, but somewhat duller, with a paler belly and barring on the upper throat feathers. Juveniles lack the bright colouration ..

Like the Indigo-capped, these hummingbirds are endemic to Colombia. They are classified as ENDANGERED and population estimates are 600-1700 mature individuals. Their core range is in the Chicamocha, Suarez and Chucuri valleys. Locally to Bucaramanga, they are seen often below the Mesa de los Santos, also in the Umpala valley, Cañon de los Iguanas and a few near San Vicente de Chucuri close to the ProAves Cerulean Warbler reserve. I saw my first on a small shade coffee plantation at 1700m overlooking the Chicamocha to the south of Aratoca and I think that shade-coffee habitat also suits them.

 It is suggested they might migrate locally, but little is known about their movements. They're a little small for current tracker technology! They seem to like semi-arid areas, so it was a surprise to turn up in north-east Bucaramanga which is more humid.

What a fantastic surprise and privilege to get this bird on our balcony. Even more fortunate that it arrived only days before I had to take down the feeder and leave for the UK. Luckily it could continue to feed at the other balcony feeders in our apartment block and I hope it's doing well. To get so close to such an amazing bird is a dream come true.

Birding is Colombia is amazing. I can't wait to go back!


  1. I hope you manage to move back to Colombia. Your blog is a great source of information on Colombia - a lot better than my Colombian relatives.

  2. The bird looking very beautiful. very nice post.


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