This is the first in an occasional series celebrating truly wonderful bills. (Not the sort that charges you $4,358 for a month's electricity that normally costs about $60, or that includes the cost of a bottle of Moet that you didn't have with your Special Fried Rice!)
It was inspired by finally seeing the fabulous Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) very recently in Ecuador, at the delightful Yanacocha Reserve, 6,700 hectares of cloud forest on the northern slopes of Pichincha Volcano, across the ridge from Quito. Like other precious cloud forest reserves, it is run by the admirable Jocotoco Foundation. I'd searched for this bird for some time in Peru and more briefly in Ecuador, but this is a hot-spot for it and we were definitely not disappointed.
It is widely reported that this is the only bird whose bill is longer than its combined head-body; neither this photo nor more sober measurements cited in the literature quite support that claim, but there's not much in it and there's no doubt that it has the relatively longest bill of any hummingbird and probably of any bird at all. I'm not too worried about records, it is just an extraordinary bird.
|Female Sword-billed Hummingbird, Yanacocha Reserve.|
Another apparent myth is that it always rests with the bill elevated, to help balance it, but this one seemed to have no trouble supporting the gram or two it must weigh. Like other long-billed hummingbirds, the Sword-bill has sacrificed the ability to preen with the bill, so does a lot of scratching.
The bill's purpose is to probe straight tube flowers, including Datura (Angel's Trumpet), Passiflora (Passionflowers) and Fuchsias, though most of these would not seem to require such an extreme probe and I find it somewhat perplexing.
|Fuchsia ampliata, Yanacocha Reserve.|
Being perplexed however is one of the joys of immersing oneself in nature, and I am privileged to have seen this wonderful animal.
Back on Monday.