Alejandro Rico-Guevara is an assistant professor and curator of ornithology at the Burke Museum and an expert on hummingbirds. We talked to him about what inspired his unusual interest:
“My interest in hummingbirds started on a field trip to the Amazon as an undergrad. Gary Stiles, who was my professor, is one of the world experts on hummingbirds! I was fascinated to learn about hummers, the kind of questions that I could start asking about them. That, combined with the fact that hummingbirds have unusual personalities among animals, did the trick.
“Hummingbirds are so bold and inquisitive. When we were crossing one of their habitats, a hermit came and hovered in front of all the four of us, pausing and examining what to the bird were these huge and slow foreign creatures. Even more impressive than their behaviors is the diversity in the aspects like bill shape. The answer to why is coevolution: Plants and birds have been negotiating the terms of their partnership for millions of years.
“We have a research station on a coffee farm in Colombia where we are training wild birds to participate in experiments. We have high-speed cameras, nectar-delivery devices and respirometry equipment in a room facing a balcony. We attract hummingbirds to a feeder on the balcony and then transition to the artificial flower inside the room. They come and go as they please. They get the yummy food they love, and we get to study them.”