Bee Hummingbird

The Bee Hummingbird is the world’s smallest living bird. Known for its iridescent, colorful appearence and incredibly small size (no more than 2.5 inches), this bird has been one of the most popular subjects among wild life photographers and bird watchers. Indigenous to Cuba, the Bee Hummingbirds were formerly common and widespread; however, at present, they are becoming almost rare and localized.

Bee Hummingbird Scientific Classification

Animalia
Chordata
Aves
Apodiformes
Trochilidae
Mellisuga
Mellisuga helenae

Bee Hummingbird

Bee Hummingbird

Physical Description: How do the Bee Hummingbirds Look

Length: The actual size of this bird is between 5 and 6 cm, with an average wingspan length of 3.25 cm.

Weight: They weigh between 1.6 and 1.9 gm.

Plumage/Coloration: The male bee hummingbirds display bright breeding plumage with fiery reddish pink feathers on the head, throat, and neck. The feathers on the other upper parts are bluish-green, while the underside is whitish grey. They have bright iridescent coloring of red, blue and green. The females have green upperparts and white tips to the tail feathers. They do not have the iridescence. After the mating season, they become relatively dull in color. The baby birds are featherless.

Wings: The wings are sturdy, and have bright blue spots at the tips.

Tail: A medium-size tail with black-tipped tail feathers, while the females have white tips (sexual dimorphism).

Hummingbird Bee

Hummingbird Bee

Lifespan

The bee hummingbirds can live up to 7 years in the wild, and for 10 years in captivity.

Distribution/Range

The Cuban bee hummingbird is endemic to Cuba, and has a patchy distribution throughout the mainland, and on the neighboring Isla de la Juventud.

Habitat: Where do Bee Hummingbirds live

Though these hummingbirds appear to live at both low and high altitudes, they seem to favor lowland locations. They are spread throughout the interior and coastal forests, swampy areas, mountain valleys, and also in the manmade gardens, especially those that have feeders.

Behavioral Characteristics

The Bee Hummingbirds tend to spend a solitary life, except during breeding season. This bird is diurnal, i.e. they are active during daytime. Since the climate of their natural habitat is favorable, they do not need to migrate. However, seasonally, they do move to short distances during foraging, where there is abundance of flowers.

These tiny creatures have a strange ability in their style of flying, being able to fly straight up, down, backwards and also upside down.

The male of the species is territorial, and would establish its own feeding territory. Other males, and even nectar-feeding insects like hawk moths and bumble bees, attempting to feed in their territories, are aggressively chased. They would also use intimidating displays and aerial flights for defending their territories.

Bee Hummingbird in Hand

Bee Hummingbird in Hand

Communication, Sounds and Calls

Both the sexes communicate with each other through high-pitched, simple songs, not much soothing to the human ear. The songs may either be the repetition of a few notes, or short warbles. The birds are can also emit variety of vocal sounds like twittering and squeaking.

Diet: What Do Bee Hummingbirds Eat

The bee hummingbird is primarily an herbivore (nectarivore), and thrives on nectar (honey) from different flowers. However, at times, they would also peck upon small insects and terrestrial non-insect arthropods like spider, etc.

Video Clip: Bee Hummingbirds Flying and Feeding

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Bee Hummingbirds are polygamous. They can have multiple partners during mating season. During this time, the adult male birds form small groups of singing males known as ‘leks’, to advertise to and attract the females. The songs sung by individual males within a single singing assembly vary. Females visit several leks and select a mate based on his performance. A single male may mate with several females in one season.

This species of hummingbirds typically breed in the summer months – between March and June. Before laying the eggs, female bee hummingbirds build an extremely tiny nest that shapes like a cup. The nest is made of thin twigs that are held together by lichens and cobwebs.

Bee Hummingbird Nest

Bee Hummingbird Nest

Male Bee Hummingbird

Male Bee Hummingbird

The clutch size of this bird is 2. The length of the eggs is no more than 6 mm. The gestation period is about 22 days during which time, the eggs are incubated by the female bird. The nestlings are also fed and cared for only by the female bird, as it hovers over the nest.

As the baby bee hummingbirds are hatched out, they are completely blind and almost without any sign of downs. However, the rate of growth of the young ones is rapid. The nestlings are fed by the process of regurgitation for 20-40 days. The young chicks leave their nests only after the full wing feathers are fully-grown, which takes around 18-24 days after hatching.

Bee Hummingbird Eggs

Bee Hummingbird Eggs

Baby Bee Hummingbird

Baby Bee Hummingbird

After the feathers grow, the juveniles closely look like the adult Bee Hummingbird (without much difference in looks), except that the decorative patterns, including the iridescent ornamentations and dark colorations only appear at a later stage during adulthood.

Video Clip: Bee Hummingbirds Nesting and Foraging

Adaptations

  • The long and slender bills (beaks) of these birds are well-suited for sipping nectar from inside the flowers.
  • The bee hummingbird has evolved a long and protractile tongue in order to gather nectar from flowers more effectively.
  • Bee hummingbirds have a unique ability of moving their wings like a figure-of-eight pattern. This gives them the ability to fly swiftly and hover with incredible agility.
  • They have adapted to the cool weather during the night, using torpor. During cold nights, their normal body temperature of 41° C falls to the air temperature around 30° C, thus helping them conserve energy.
Bee Hummingbird Pictures

Bee Hummingbird Pictures

Predators: What Eats a Bee Hummingbird

The primary enemies of the bee hummingbirds are other larger birds including hawks, falcons, kestrels, orioles, etc., as well as frogs, different kinds of fishes, and tropical spiders.

Bee Hummingbird Flying

Bee Hummingbird Flying

Conservation Status

Bee hummingbirds are not yet endangered though, but with the recent and rapid decline in population, mostly because of habitat loss, the bee hummingbirds have been listed by the IUCN 3.1 under category ‘NT’ or “Near Threatened”. It is illegal in many areas, including the United States, to keep them as pets.

 

Interesting Facts

  1. In spite of being unbelievably tiny, the bee hummingbirds are capable of beating their wings about 80 times in a second, in general.
  2. During courtship display, the number of wing beats can increase up to an incredible 200 times per second.
  3. This little bird prefers areas that have a high density of the plant Solandra grandiflora, a vine with large ornamental flowers, which is their preferred source of collecting nectar.
  4. In one typical day of feeding, a single bee hummingbird can help pollinate up to 1,500 flowers.
  5. The size of the egg of this bird is the same as a green pea.
  6. The bee hummingbirds are capable of flying at speeds of 25-30 mph.
  7. Their nests are as tiny as 1-2 inches, and can be found in the smallest of places, including on the ends of clothespins.
  8. This species has a very high breathing speed. A resting Bee Hummingbird would take about 250 breaths per minute.
  9. They have the second fastest heart rate recorded in any animal (next only to the Asian shrew), with up to 1,200 times per minute.
  10. This little one can fly up to twenty hours without a break.
  11. Bee hummingbirds prefer nectar that has 15-30% of sucrose concentration.
  12. The birds spend up to 15 percent of their time by eating.
  13. The digestive system of this species is very strong. Each day, an individual can consume up to half its body mass in food and 8 times its body mass in water.
  14. The tiny bee hummingbirds are often mistaken for insects because of their smallness. They are not much bigger than the bees, for which they are called so.
  15. Bee Hummingbirds are also known as ‘Zunzuncito’ and ‘Helena Hummingbird’.

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