The Cuban bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is the world’s smallest bird weighing less than 0.07 oz (2 g). The size of the bee hummingbird is even smaller than few day-flying moths. Ironically perhaps it seems rather unlikely to consider it a bird as it appears more like an insect. The Jamaican vervain hummingbird is the closest relative of bee hummingbird but the former is less colorful.
Bee Hummingbird Facts
- The bird is 2.4 inches long and the wingspan is up to 4 inches. The size of the bee hummingbird equals the size of the eye of the largest bird (i.e. ostrich). Ostrich’s egg is 3,000 times heavier than the hummingbird’s egg.
- The bird possesses an extremely thin bill with the length measuring 0.4 inch. Thanks to its brush-tipped tongue and thin bill hummingbird manages to get to the flower-depth and sip nectar.
- The male and female are clearly distinguishable by their heads. The male’s head has an iridescent neck feathers (which goes red in sunlight) along with the long throat plumes. The underparts are blue with the dominant grey plumage. The female lacks all these iridescent feather colors.
- As is the size of the bird, its legs are also short and the feet small. However bee hummingbird has large claws which don’t seem to play an important role as the bird spends too much time on the wing.
- Thanks to its tiny size and quick action due to which the bird is able to control its position with precision while hovering.
- The bee hummingbird is found in the Cuban island with an isolated population also lives in the island of Pines in the Caribbean.
- They make homes in open woodland, gardens, and parks where flowers are abundant to offer them nectar.
- The tiny bird is mostly observed flying near small flowers for a simple reason that it can’t reach deep in larger flowers.
- In the Caribbean and Cuban islands, hummingbird makes homes in a variety of habitats ranging from dry tropical forests to the thorn forest along with the dry tropical scrub.
- It is most likely to perch on the highest tree-tops and telephone wires.
Feeding ecology and Diet
- Like other hummingbirds, bee hummingbird also relies on nectar which brings so much energy to its health.
- It hovers in front of a flower while beating its wings 50 – 80 times a second to keep maneuvering in midair. It reaches out for the nectar by extending its brush-tipped tongue into the bloom.
- Bee hummingbirds are likely to sip nectar from scarlet bush and coral plant. Hummingbirds are generally attracted to the bloom-laden shrub but these species allow each plant time to replenish its nectar. It also consumes spiders and small insects.
- The hummingbird’s head is often dusted with pollen (as it sips nectar from a flower). They carry this pollen to other flowers as they feed. As it turns out the flowers are fertilized and their habitat is colonized.
- The male hummingbird is highly territorial and it defends its flower from other species. It lives a solitary life.
- The bee hummingbird is known to spend a great deal of time sipping the sugar nectar and buzzing from flower to flower.
- The bird beats its wings 50 – 80 times a second as a result of which the energy required rapidly exhausts.
- The bee hummingbird has got a high body temperature (in sunlight) and it feeds consistently by day. However the bird will not feed at night because of the cool of the night.
- The bird’s size is small so much so that it cannot keep its body warm while it remains inactive. To keep it warm the bird goes into a torpor state during which the heart rate and body temperature decreases, thereby reducing its energy requirements.
- During breeding season, the male hummingbird twitters or utters high-pitched squeaks to get the attention of a mate. It’s a song which he must learn as he grows old.
- Several males go after one female while at the same time uttering some exciting twitters.
- After mating the male hummingbird goes away and takes no part in looking after the young.
- The female hummingbird weaves a cup-shaped nest which measures less than an inch across its rim. The nest is made of lichens and plant fiber. The nest is tied to a branch by a spiders’ web.
- The female bird lays two eggs which are 0.3 inch long and weighs up to 0.009 oz.
- The size of the nest equals the half of a walnut shell.
- The female will feed her young by regurgitating nectar into their throats.
- Generally the fledging period lasts 18 days but when the food is scarce or weather poor the delay is more likely than not to occur.
- The incubation period lasts 14 – 19 days.
- Bee hummingbird attains maturity at one year of age.
- The mating season occurs in May. The breeding interval and lifespan is not known.
The island of Pines and the Cuban islands are home to about 100,000 bee hummingbirds. The limited range of these species makes them even more vulnerable to freak weather.