Hummingbirds are one of nature’s tiniest marvels and have the ability to dazzle and charm any birdwatcher’s eyes. However, the bee hummingbird is an absolute wonder to behold as it is considered a miniature even among hummingbirds, and has rightly earned the title of the world’s smallest bird.
Measuring an estimate of 5-6 centimeters, these tiny birds weigh less than an American dime—less than 2 grams (approx. 0.07 ounces).
To get a glimpse of these petite birds, one needs to look closely around their native country of Cuba, where they are found fluttering on flowers along the coast, in the interior rainforest, and in suburban gardens. Additionally, they are even found in mountain valleys and swamplands.
While the bee hummingbird is the common name of this minute species, among ornithologists, this bird is known as Mellisuga helenae. Meanwhile, its Cuban name is Zunzuncito or Zunzun Hummingbird. According to the HummingBird guide.com, these birds don’t migrate and are quite content with the subtropical climate in their native country.
It’s a beautiful combination of hues in the male species of the bee hummingbird that makes it a tiny jewel. The striking features of the male bee hummingbirds include a green pileum and a bright-red throat. The iridescent gorget (colored feathers on the throat) with elongated lateral plumes and bluish upper parts make the bird’s appearance a sight to behold.
Meanwhile, the female bee hummingbird is dressed in bluish-green plumage with a white pale gray underside. The tip of its tail feathers has white spots.
A distinctive feature of the bee hummingbird is that in flight, they can beat their wings at 80 times per second; meanwhile, during their courtship, they can go up to beating their wings 200 times per second, according to BirdNote, a show that transports listeners into the natural world.
As for its diet, the bee hummingbird is known to feed mainly on nectar by moving its tongue rapidly in and out of its mouth, but occasionally, it will feed on insects and spiders too. Additionally, the bee hummingbird is known to help the ecosystem by aiding in plant reproduction. During its feeding process, the bee hummingbird picks up pollen on its bill and head, and as it flies from flower to flower, it transfers the pollen. It is believed that in a day, the bee hummingbird can visit about 1,500 flowers.
Ecologist Bo Dalsgaard of the University of Copenhagen, notes that the bee hummingbird being of such a tiny size comes with its own price. “It costs a lot of energy to be a small organism, because the metabolic rate and heat loss is relatively larger,” says Dalsgaard according to WIRED. “Hummingbirds must, therefore, feed very frequently, or go into torpor, a form of deep sleep, to save energy.”
The breeding season for the bee hummingbirds begins in the month of March. As the mating season rolls out, the male bee hummingbird shines in fiery pinkish-red from head to the throat, and blazing red feathers point like spikes down the sides of the breast. It is known that more than one male competes for a female. Additionally, to attract its female counterpart, the male bee hummingbird performs various aerial displays and sings its heart out.
The female bee hummingbird then lays two coffee-bean-sized eggs, which are only 2.5 centimeters (slightly less than 1 inch) in diameter, in her nest. However, the mother bee hummingbird prevents the father of the eggs from coming anywhere near the nest, as his shiny coat might be easily visible to predators. It takes about 21–22 days for the chick to hatch, and for an additional three weeks, the mother bee hummingbird feeds them on nectar, after which they are on their own.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, these tiny jewels are listed as “near threatened,” and their numbers are declining. The main threat these species face is a loss of habitat due to agriculture. Additionally, these birds suffer from predation by tropical spiders, frogs, fish, and larger birds.
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