Curious Hummingbird Behavior

Washing on the wing…

by Sam


Hummingbirds are surely one of the world’s most fascinating, compelling and addictive avian groups, offering something to every level of birder or ornithologist. One of the new world’s most marvelous natural specialities!

Stripe-tailed Hummingbird near Santa Elena, Costa Rica by Dirk van der Made

Although they are of course ubiquitous across the neotropics, views are usually brief and observing an individual for any prolonged period of time is often difficult! I have recently been engaged in fieldwork in Honduras. During a survey at one of our lower sub-sites (ca 600masl) I had the opportunity to watch a female Stripe-tailed Hummingbird washing ‘on the wing’ in a pool of a mountain stream. Reminiscent of a Dragonfly ovipositing, dunking two or three times before flying to a perch to preen and then repeating the process.

Taking the plunge! Stripe-tailed Hummingbird dunking into the pool

…then zipping back to the perch to preen.

and again!

I’ve seen hummingbirds washing from wet leaves or drips before, but not in standing water whilst still on the wing. I’ve heard from others of similar observations of this washing behaviour but particularly in Costa Rica where apparently there is a regular site to observe large numbers of hummers doing this.

Presumably this behaviour is relatively common, just infrequently observed… It would be interesting and intriguing to hear of your similar observations!

About Sam Jones

I am an early-career ornithologist and conservation scientist and have been an avid birder and naturalist since childhood. I have been involved in a variety of work worldwide, particularly in expedition environments and field research throughout the new and old world tropics. Most recently this has taken place in Central America, Indonesian Borneo, Ethiopia and the islands of the South Pacific..
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7 Responses to Curious Hummingbird Behavior

  1. Sam Jones says:

    Brilliant Dave, some lovely photos there!
    In a similar vein, some fascinating new stuff on hummingbird flight behaviour during rain. Spurred on by other recent research on Mosquitos-
    The video is available on YouTube somewhere!

  2. Sam says:

    Hello Sam

    With a friend, we observed a similar behavior of a hummingbird bathing in Costa Rica. Hovering flight, then stitched common on the surface of the water.

    a photo of the bird hold at this here:
    Purple-crowned Fairy

    Best regards,

  3. Sam Jones says:

    Lovely photo Sam, and a great bird..thanks for sharing your observation!
    Interesting to see a larger hummingbird exhibiting the same behaviour.

  4. Martin Reid says:

    Dear Martin/All,
    Rancho Naturalista on the eastern Foothills of Costa Rica is famous (at least in some circles!) for its Hummingbird Bathing Pools. They have a large patch of forest (c. 1,000m) in which the highest elevation for water on the hill are a series of pools fed by a seep/underground spring inside the forest and fairly close to the accommodations. All the birds living upslope from these pools come down to drink and bather there – especially during the Dry Season. There is a short trail down to a couple of benches located just above the pools, and most late afternoons/evenings a steady trickle of birds come in to drink and bathe, including (with varying degrees of frequency) Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Violet-crowned Woodnymph (commonest), Purple-crowned Fairly (also common), Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, and the incomparable Snowcap!
    Other birds often seen include Dull-mantled Antbird and a variety of Neotropical warblers, and Once watched a Great Tinamou at the pools for more than seven minutes…
    Note that this list is from memory of five trips there up until 1995, so I expect the list will have improved since then.

    • Sam Jones says:

      Hi Martin,

      really interesting stuff, I think this was the place in Costa Rica I was referring to (as you can can probably guess, I haven’t visited) that others told me about. Interesting to hear how prevalent it is at this site which sparks other questions about learnt and local behaviours etc.

  5. Sam Jones says:

    A video on IBC of a Purple-crowned Woodnymph washing in Costa Rica from Rancho Naturalista-

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