Hummingbirds find love with flowers and a place for romance

Well, here is a story I couldn’t resist, my favorite birds—hummingbirds—in love (well, let’s call it love, although it sounds more like “in sex”). It is nonetheless a new discovery on these amazing little creatures in glorious Dominica

Researchers have discovered a behavior of the purple-throated caribs, a hummingbird on the island of Dominica, that has not previously been recorded in birds. Male caribs will defend a territory larger than they need, including a flowery area meant exclusively to lure females for mating, researchers said. John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and Ethan Temeles, an ornithologist and biology professor at Amherst College, have studied the purple-throated caribs on Dominica since 2001.

Female caribs have longer bills than the males, enabling them to eat nectar in lobster claw heliconia flowers.  Despite the males’ inability to eat from the heliconia, males were seen aggressively defending an area that includes these flower spots. “They’ll sit on a perch, and when any other bird comes, they will attack it, usually with wing fluttering, chirping, kicking with their legs or they will butt it with their bodies,” Kress said.  “I’ve seen a hummingbird fight off a hawk.”

But potential mates are more than welcome.  Female caribs are left behind the velvet ropes into the “ladies only” section. Here the females will eat from the heliconia and then possibly mate with the male depending on the quality of the male’s territory. “Normally in sexual selection like peacocks, the male will have elaborate plumage and females get more and more drab,” Kress said.  “Here they look alike and it’s an external thing they are developing in order to attract mates.”

Mating season in Dominica lasts only about a month, usually around March, when a male can mate three or four times a day, according to Kress.

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Image: A male purple-throated carib feeding from a Caribbean heliconia.  While its bill is not big enough to eat from lobster claw heliconia, males will also keep them in its territory to lure females, which have longer bills.

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