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NATURE: The Hummingbird Effect

Female Green-crowned Brilliant hummingbird. San Ramon, Costa Rica.
Courtesy of © Filipe DeAndrade
Female Green-crowned Brilliant hummingbird. San Ramon, Costa Rica.

Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV / Stream now with KPBS Passport + Encore Thursday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2 at 3:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 3 at Noon on on KPBS TV.

Costa Rica’s motto is Pura Vida - Pure Life - and this deceptively small country is bursting with some of the most spectacular wildlife and pristine ecosystems in the world. All this diversity thrives, in part, thanks to one surprising little creature: hummingbirds. Venture across Costa Rica’s wild and rugged landscapes, from volcanic peaks to coastal jungle to misty cloud forests, and discover the nation’s dazzling diversity of hummingbirds. There are more than 50 species of hummingbirds here, and they play an outsize role in maintaining some of the richest and wildest environments on Earth.

NATURE: Preview of The Hummingbird Effect

Featured Hummingbirds:

  • Black-crested Coquette
  • White-tipped Sicklebill
  • Crowned Woodnymph
  • Long-billed Hermit
  • Fiery-throated hummingbird
  • Volcano hummingbird
  • Coppery-headed Emerald
  • Blue-throated Goldentail
  • Snowcap hummingbird
  • White-necked Jacobin
  • Mangrove hummingbird
Meet the Rare Volcano Hummingbird

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • During mating season, Long-billed Hermit males gather in groups for a talent contest called a “lek.” From a perch, one male begins a courtship ritual that starts with a series of chirps. Other males join in and soon a chorus fills the forest. A whole song is squeezed into one chirp.
  • No bigger than a human thumb, the Volcano hummingbird only exists in the Talamanca Mountains. But their appetite is anything but small, as they must replenish 12,000 calories a day from the tiny mountain flowers that suit their miniature bill.
  • Male, White-necked Jacobins are aggressive and territorial around any food source. Their metallic blue tuxedos and flared white skirts distinguish them from females, who typically shed their vivid colors for a more muted palette when they get older. But one out of every five females keeps their “male” costume, holding onto their bright blue coloring. This “deceptive coloration” lets her slip through the crowd of rowdy males unnoticed.
Long-Billed Hermit’s Mating Dance

Noteworthy Facts:

  • There are more than 50 species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, making them key architects of every possible environment in the country.
  • Hummingbirds are driven by nectar, and their specialized bodies are built for harvesting this sugary fuel from flowers.
  • A unique rotator cuff and wing design allows hummingbirds to flap their wings in a figure eight pattern, making them the only birds in the world that can fly backwards.
How Female Hummingbirds Avoid Harassment

Watch On Your Schedule:

This episode is available on demand with KPBS Passport, a member benefit that unlocks exclusive shows and extra content on the PBS App.



A production of Coneflowers Productions and The WNET Group in co-production with Terra Mater Studios. The documentary is produced by Ann Johnson Prum, Doug Shultz and Filipe DeAndrade. Written by Doug Shultz and edited by Jim Isler. Narrated by Harry Shum Jr. NATURE is a production of The WNET Group. Fred Kaufman is executive producer. Bill Murphy is series producer and Janet Hess is series editor.