Hummingbirds are much-beloved birds. Their unique beaks, rapid wingbeats and flitting motions make them popular guests in gardens. Attracting them with flowers and feeders can consume a gardener's time, even more so than combating weeds.
But there's one place it's relative easy to see hummingbirds: Ecuador. The South American country is home to more than 120 species of hummingbirds, despite being roughly the size of Nevada. For comparison's sake, fewer than 25 species of hummingbirds are routinely spotted across all of the United States.
Hummingbirds enjoy Ecuador for its variations in altitude and its location at the equator. These features provide a range of different climates, something the birds appreciate. From mountaintops and glaciers to the centers of cities, Ecuador has everything hummingbirds need.
Blue-throated hillstar (Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus)
Discovered in 2017 and described in a October 2018 study published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, the blue-throated hillstar inhabits an isolated area of Ecuador spanning 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) between the provinces of Loja and El Oro, near the Pacific Ocean. While bird scholars celebrated the confirmation of a new hummingbird, the blue-throated hillstar is also a canary in the coal mine of sorts. With an estimated population of only 750 individuals, it already meets the criteria for a critically endangered species, the study's authors write.
The birds thrive in arid environments 11,000 feet (3,350 meters) above sea level, having adapted to the high altitudes by minimizing how much they hover and spending nights in a state of hibernation known as torpor. Additionally, the blue-throated hillstar has larger feet than most hummingbirds, allowing it to hop between branches and hang upside down to reach nectar.
White-necked jacobin (Florisuga mellivora)
The white-necked jacobin is most often found in humid forest canopies or the tops of second-growth forests, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Some reports have the species living in coffee and cacao plantations as well. This bird will get very territorial with others, especially if there's nectar nearby.
Telling males and females of the species apart can be a little tricky. Females can look almost exactly like the male save for longer beaks and shorter wings.
Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)
The violet-tailed sylph was once considered a member of a different species entirely, the long-tailed sylph. The two species have some overlap in their ranges, and so their distinctly long tails initially led to them being classified as the same bird. The violet-tailed sylph had different enough morphology, behavior and distribution, however, that it was reclassified as its own species.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two sylphs is their tails. As the name would suggest, violet-tailed sylphs have tails with a purple hue and bluish tips. Long-tailed sylphs have blue or teal tails through and through.
Sapphire-vented puffleg (Eriocnemis luciani)
As if hummingbirds weren't cute enough, here come the pufflegs. Members of this genus have tufts of feathers around their feet, like fluffy little leg warmers. The sapphire-vented puffleg hummingbird has bright green feathers with dashes of blue near the beak. The birds' tails are bluish-black, a stark contrast to their bodies.
These hummingbirds favor mountainous regions that have low-level foraging options, namely small flowers with places for perching. The bird is a relative unknown, however, when it comes to its biology, and there are unexplained gaps in its distribution across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
Wire-crested thorntail (Discosura popelairii)
It's hard to miss male wire-crested thorntails. They have wiry crests atop their heads and long forked tails that probably make sylphs envious. Females lack the namesake crests and the long tails. Like other hummingbirds, these thorntails defend sites of high-nectar flowers against other hummingbirds looking to get a taste.
Brown violetear (Colibri delphinae)
From stand out to blend in, the brown violetear is a more subdued-looking hummingbird. Its brown body feathers are broken up only by violet and green feathers around the cheeks and throat. The bird prefers humid forest canopies or coffee plantations as a habitat. In addition to nectar, it's known to snatch insects out of midair as snacks.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the bird has a "sharp rough song."
White-whiskered hermit (Phaethornis yaruqui)
Its song is amplified when males gather in a group. They send out dozens of vocalizations every minute in an effort to attract females.
Chestnut-breasted coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii)
Described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as "stout, heavy-bodied birds," chestnut-breasted coronets have a basic color pattern: a green upper body and their red-orange undersides. This makes them easy to recognize in their favored habitats of humid mountainous forests. They're well-known for leaving their wings extended for a second or two after landing before settling in on the perch.
Crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica)
Male crowned woodnymph hummingbirds glitter in the humid lowland forests of Ecuador. There are four different subspecies, three of which have a green throat and blue belly while the fourth is an all green affair.
Amethyst-throated sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis)
Like the crowned woodnymphs, amethyst-throated sunangels have multiple subspecies — three northern subspecies in the Andes of northeastern Colombia and in Venezuela, and another three from southern Ecuador south to Bolivia. Regardless of the country, these sunangels favor the edges of humid forests near mountains.