Last Sunday morning I awoke in my tent in a drizzly, foggy, chilly cloudforest at about 6500 feet (2000 m) in elevation, atop one of the main ridges of the Eastern Sierra Madres near the boundary of Querétaro and San Luis Potosí states. When the rain ended I folded up my tent and descended into the valley following an old logging road. Passing through a revegetating clearing, a loud bumblebee's buzz caught my attention. I'd not heard bumblebees here, in fact couldn't remember having even seen any really big bees here, so I gave this one a hard look. It was a male Bumblebee Hummingbird, SELASPHORUS HELOISA, endemic to the Mexican highlands north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. You can see a picture of such a male at http://www.oiseaux.net/photos/manuel.grosselet/colibri.heloise.1.html.
This isn't the world's smallest bird, but it's close to it. The smallest is considered to be the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae, weighing less than a penny. The Bumblebee-size hummer before me last Sunday surely didn't weigh much more than that.
Besides causing a loud buzzing the bird's flight was slow and heavy relative to other hummingbird species. The bird lit on a limb in plain view not ten feet from me and then to my amazement a second one landed so close to the first that they could have crossed beaks if they'd wanted. So round-bodied and shifting from one foot to another and looking around like tourists while they twittered, I couldn't keep from thinking of hobbits.
After maybe 15 seconds they buzzed off, passing right over my head, were they were joined by yet a third hummer, a different species. This newcomer was much larger than the other two and it made sounds that to my ears seemed like scolding. In fact, while it scolded it zigzagged so close to our pair that it looked like harassment to me. The new hummer was one of our most widespread hummingbird species, the White- eared, a little larger than the North's Ruby-throated Hummingbird, thus looking like a giant next to our Bumblebee Hummers.
Quickly the White-eared vanished while the other two kept buzzing here and there, not seeming worried at all about the White-ear's animosity or my presence. I left them in peace but a minute or so down the road I ran into another pair, and this time the male landed not six feet away and began preening. He fanned his brown, black and white tail and spread his glittering, rose-pink gorget with violet-blue highlights so that it looked like an upside-down, iridescent butterfly opening its wings beneath his beak. What an extraordinary mingling of unwieldy pudginess and sheer elegance and charm!
A curious feature of this bird's flight is that he hovers with his body held horizontally but with his very stubby tail cocked nearly vertically.