Snowcap - the Hummingbird that Swims?

by Beth Kingsley Hawkins

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Snowcap hummingbird in Costa Rica, bathing in pool


The diminutive Snowcap is one of the smallest of the small, measuring 2.4-2.6 inches from tip to tail. It is named for the white feathers on its head which resemble the white flower of the wild raspberry at which it feeds. It is actually camouflaged, as its brightly-colored magenta body resembles the raspberry itself. Both colorings serve to fool a predator looking down from above.

I traveled all the way to Costa Rica to experience this phenomenon. The rainforest lagoon had five descending pools that flowed into each other. I was able to photograph the Snowcap bathing in the lowest pool, because one of the thick rainforest trees had fallen, providing greater light there. Fascinated birders would look down from the hillside above, calling out: “Snowcap in Pool number one,” “Purple-crowned Fairy in Pool number two,” “Two Snowcaps in Pool number four,” “Purple-crowned Woodymph in Pool number three." It felt like a woodland fairy tale, full of fairies, wood nymphs and snowcaps.

The expanding concentric circles made by the Snowcap diving into the water over and over felt like ever-widening circles of love. Each time, he would come up in a new place much the way a loon does. It was challenging to photograph him, as I never knew where he was going to surface. I counted this occurrence over twenty times, down, in and up like a bouncing ping-pong ball. This amazing hummingbird swims in this magical setting.

Capturing the exact moment he came out of the water with the visible droplets shedding off his back on film took three intense days. I was there in the place of maximum opportunity, I had the equipment, the skill and the patience, but I felt the success was only possible with divine co-operation. Finally, everything came together, resulting in the image pictured here.

Copyright Beth Kingsley Hawkins