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The Great Hummingbird War of outside our cabin

Written by Jeremy Novak (Cornell University Student)

In all honesty The Great Hummingbird War is a tad misleading for three very important reasons: 1) it is really more of a series of fights; 2) it wasn’t that great, more or less as entertaining as the morning news; and 3) the most recent fight had nothing to do with a hummingbird, but rather a moth. The Great Hummingbird War does have one big thing going for it, it sounds a lot more exciting than The Just as Entertaining as the Morning News Series of Fights That Were Only Partially Fought Between Hummingbirds of outside our cabin. It also rolls of the tongue just a little bit better.

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The best place to start when talking about any war is the beginning: Many moons ago, long before I arrived at the Osa peninsula, someone planted two clumps of Rabo de Zorros (Stachytarpheta cayennensis) outside the cabin we are staying in. The only way to describe this battlefield is… lovely, as the two plants are wonderful and provide a nice purple contrast to the landscape. They also serve as a food source for the local hummingbirds, and here is where the conflict begins because hummingbirds are by nature are territorial. And Hummingbirds that feed off of these two plants are very territorial, thus every morning when we woke up for breakfast we would witness a spectacle that can only be described, with complete honesty, as an overly aggressive dance with juice breaks. When one hummingbird spotted another hummingbird in its territory it would fly aggressively towards this new rival. Then the rival would zip away to find a new spot just out of view of the first hummingbird and enjoy the nectar from the flowers. But our fierce battle is not over as this “juice break” is often short lived, when the hummingbirds encounter each other again they repeat this dance darting around the plant flying quickly and gracefully between flowers and stems in their rivalry over this one plant. But we must not forget the second Rabo de Zorro across the path from the first, for it is host to the same type combat each morning, featuring smaller but no less persistent and territorial hummingbirds. All wars must at some point come to an end, and the larger hummingbirds do so in a spectacular fashion. When their dance comes to an end both rivals fly straight up above the roof of our cabin where the sunlight makes this spectacle almost impossible to see, what happens up there I can only imagine, because when they are done, both hummingbirds return to the Rabo de Zorro then one of them leaves.

Now if this were a children’s story and not an overly dramatic rendition of one person’s morning observations, we’d have to end the story with “…one of them leaves never to be seen again” but it’s not because I’m pretty sure that the same hummingbird comes back to try again the next day.

As far as the issue of the moth is concerned one would think being able to tell the difference a hummingbird and a moth would be easy, but it is surprisingly hard when they are about the same size and both hovering about looking for nectar.  Our first morning here my professor, Andy, and I were watching the hummingbirds darting around the flowers when I saw a hummingbird smaller than size of your thumb, and pointed it out to Andy. He saw only a glimpse of it and told me that it was too small to be a hummingbird and that it must have been a moth, thus a week long argument began. Each morning that first week we would stand out by the Rabo de Zorro watching for the bird/moth to return. Latter during this week Manuel returned to the station and we got him to weigh in on our argument. He confirmed that some very tiny hummingbirds do visit the Osa on their migrations. A quick internet search reveals the same thing but where’s the fun in that? With new resolution that we could have seen a hummingbird that small, we continued our search. That is until the fateful day, when Andy managed to get a blurry, but convincing photo (below) of our little hummingbird, or should I say moth. Andy had been correct that the hummingbird we had seen the first day on the Osa peninsula was a moth.

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Thus ends The Great Hummingbird War of outside our cabin, while the daily conflict of the local hummingbirds is not going to end anytime soon, we can rest easy knowing that the biggest conflict in this long great war has been put to rest.

Thank you Jeremy for sharing your experience !