Central American Specialty: Snowcap

 

The Snowcap is even smaller than the diminutive Ruby-throat: at 2.5 inches long, it weighs less than a penny and is easily mistaken for an insect. But what it lacks in size it makes up in looks. The male is a striking mix of colors, contrasting with a shining white cap that stands out in the dark forest.

 

Snowcaps occur over a wide area but are often difficult to find and may be declining, like the Mangrove Hummingbird, due to habitat loss.

 

Many native plants rely on hummingbirds like the Snowcap for pollination. The tubular flowers favored by hummingbirds exclude most bees and butterflies and as a result, prevent pollination by any visitors except the long-billed birds.

 

 

Snowcaps breed on Central American mountain slopes at heights of 1,000-2,600 feet, including at the Tirimbina Reserve in Costa Rica. After the breeding season, most move down to adjacent lowlands, a phenomena called altitudinal migration.

 

During the breeding season, male Snowcaps join small leks (areas for courtship displays), usually at forest edges, to impress females with their song, a warbling tsitsup tsitsup tsitsup tsuu ttsee.

 

“In January 2004, I was able to visit Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano National Park, where I saw this stunning hummingbird at close range,” says ABC’s Dan Lebbin. “These montane forests are home to many other beautiful resident species as well as migratory species such as Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Chestnut-sided Warbler. But the Snowcap stood out as a highlight among all the birds I saw that day.”