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Bee Hummingbird Fact File

Mellisuga helenae

Weight

1.95g

(0.07oz)

Length

5-6cm

(2-2.25in)

Lifespan

Wild 7 years

Captive 10 years

Diet

Omnivore

Nectar, Insects

Conservation Status

IUCN

Near Threatened

Meet the World’s Smallest Species of Bird

At a maximum of just 6cm (2.5in) long the bee hummingbird is the world’s smallest species of bird. Their tiny wings will beat as many as 80 times a second in flight increasing to 200 times per second when displaying for a mate.

Found exclusively on Cuba and a small neighboring island they are threatened by habitat destruction or modification mainly for farming.

A tiny mother means tiny eggs with the chicks emerging from a shell around the size of a pea or coffee bean.

Each day to feed they will visit as many 1,500 plants spending as much as 1/5 of their day feeding.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.

Appearance

The bee hummingbird is widely regarded as the world’s smallest bird. They measure just 5-6cm (2-2.25in) long. Females tend to be smaller than males. An average female will weigh 2.65g (0.093oz) while males only reach 1.95g (0.07oz).

These tiny birds have a wingspan of 5.2-6.6cm (1.3-1.5in) across. The wing is short and narrow. In the air they are highly agile due to an ability to rotate their wings 180 degrees.

Protruding from the head is a long, slender bill colored black which can be used to probe deep in to flowers to obtain their food.

Males and females are sexually dimorphic. Males sport an iridescent red head and throat.

Across the rest of the body males are iridescent blue or green across their back. They have dark flight feathers. On the underside they are grayish-white.

They have dark brown eyes and black legs or feet.

Diet


Bee hummingbirds are considered omnivores. Their long bill and specialized tongue are both designed to allow them to obtain nectar in the most efficient way.

When feeding the bee hummingbird will hover in front of a flower.

Nectar is the main component of their diet and their fast metabolism means they will spend up to 15% of their day feeding. While feeding they can visit as many as 1,500 flowers each day.

Small amounts of insects and spiders are also consumed.

Their preferred source of nectar is the Solandra grandiflora.

As they move between flowers the bee hummingbirds will act as pollinators moving nectar from one flower to another.

bee hummingbird

Range

Bee hummingbirds are found in Central America where they live on the island of Cuba and the Isle of Youth.

Habitat

They make their home in dense forest and at the edge of woodlands.

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Reproduction

Bee hummingbirds will nest from April to June. This breeding season coincides with the flowering period for many of their preferred food sources.

At the start of the breeding season a group of male bee hummingbirds will form a lek which is a group that will all advertise their songs to attract a mate. Females will move between a number of leks to assess the males and choose one to mate with.

During the breeding season males will have brighter coloration around the head, chin and throat.

After mating the male will leave the female and has no involvement with raising the young.

The tiny eggs of the bee hummingbird are around the size of a coffee bean and colored white. These are deposited in to a nest which is a single inch (2.5cm) wide. The nest is formed of moss, bark and spider webs. It can then be lined with down to help keep eggs warm.

Females will incubate the eggs for 14 to 23 days with fledging taking place after 18 to 38 days.

Sexual maturity is reached at 1 year old.

Learn more about the bee hummingbird in this video from Nature on PBS

Behavior

While in flight a bee hummingbird can beat its wings up to 80 times a second. During their courtship this may increase as high as 200 times per second.

They spend a significant amount of their day flying. They may go up to 20 hours in flight without a break. In flight they reach speeds of 40-48km/h (25 to 30mph).

Bee hummingbirds are active by day.

The rotational abilities of the wing mean they have unique skills in flight. They may move straight up or down, backwards and even upside down. By moving the wings in a figure eight shape they can remain stationary in the air.

During periods of cool temperature they will drop their body temperature allowing them to conserve energy.

Outside of the breeding season the bee hummingbird is almost entirely solitary. Males establish a territory. This is defended against other males along with bumblebees and hawk-moths which may take their nectar.

Males and females create a vocalization which is high-pitched to communicate with one another. Other sounds such as a squeak or twitter are also created by these birds.

bee hummingbird

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the bee hummingbird include birds such as hawks, falcons, kestrels and orioles. They are also consumed by fish, frogs and spiders.

To avoid predation they will use their speed and quick changes in direction. They will also perform quick dives.

Bee hummingbirds are threatened by habitat modification or destruction. This has been increasing due to the expansion of cattle, cacao, coffee and tobacco farming.

Previously hats were created with stuffed hummingbirds on top which were seen as a status symbol.

Quick facts

The bee hummingbird is also known as the zunzuncito or Helena hummingbird.

Their name comes from the similarity in size of these birds to large bees.

Due to the large number of beats the hummingbirds wings make a hum from which the name is derived.

Bee hummingbirds are recorded as having the second fastest heartbeat of any animal. This can reach as much as 1260 beats per minute. This is made possible by a breath rate of up to 250 breaths per minute.

bee hummingbird

Photo Credits

Top

Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya) from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One and Two

Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom

Gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

References

McCann, M., 2021. Get to Know the Bee Hummingbird, the World’s Smallest Bird. [online] Audubon. Available at: <https://www.audubon.org/news/get-know-bee-hummingbird-worlds-smallest-bird> [Accessed 11 May 2021].

BirdLife International. 2016. Mellisuga helenae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22688214A93187682. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22688214A93187682.en. Downloaded on 11 May 2021.

Glick, A. 2002. “Mellisuga helenae” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 11, 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Mellisuga_helenae/

Cuba Direct. 2021. Ten fun facts about the world’s smallest bird: Cuba’s “bee hummingbird”. [online] Available at: <https://cubadirect.co.uk/blog/ten-fun-facts-about-the-worlds-smallest-bird-cubas-bee-hummingbird> [Accessed 12 May 2021].

Oiseaux-birds.com. 2021. Bee Hummingbird. [online] Available at: <http://www.oiseaux-birds.com/card-bee-hummingbird.html> [Accessed 12 May 2021].

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