The Bee hummingbird, belonging to family Trochilidae, is the smallest bird in the world. They are so small that they are often confused as bees at first glance. Their wing beat is around 80 per second. During mating season, wing beats can reach up to 200 per second.
Species: M. Helena
The scientific name for Bee hummingbird is Mellisuga helenae.
Unlike other small hummingbird species that usually has a slender appearance, Mellisuga helenae has a more plump and rounded appearance. Adult males are about 5.5 centimeters in length; and they weigh around 1.95 grams. Females are a bit larger than males. Adult females are around 6.1 centimeters long and they weigh about 2.6 grams. Males have bright red throat and green pileum.
Their upper parts are iridescent blue on top and the rest of it are grayish white. Females carry bluish green plumes on top and whitish, or grayish white, or pale gray below, along with white sharp ends to the outer tail plumage. It has a pointed, slender bill that helps it to probe deep inside flowers. It possess tiny dark legs.
They can be seen in forest edges, coastal forests, gardens, swamplands, interior forests and mountain valleys. They are found in both low and high altitudes, but they seem to prefer lowland regions. This little bird species prefer areas that have Solandra grandiflora. This plant has big ornamental flowers, which is this bird’s preferred nectar source.
Bee hummingbirds are native to Cuba and Isla de la Juventud (previously known as the Isle of Pines). However, the scattered population of this bird are also found in Haiti and Jamaica.
Mellisuga helenae is a diurnal species. They do not migrate, but seasonal movements are common depending on the abundance of food sources. They can fly at a speed of 40 to 48 kilometers per hour. Like all hummingbird species, Bee hummingbirds also have quirky flying skills. They can fly straight up in the air and come down straight. They can also fly backwards and upside down. They can stay immobile in the air by moving their wings in a figure-8 pattern. They stay in a state of lethargy during cold weather and it allows them to preserve energy. During cold nights, their body temperature goes down to 30 degrees C that otherwise stays around 41 degrees C. They form their own feeding territories. They are known to aggressively go after other males, hawk moths and bumblebees in the case of an intrusion. Intimidating displays and aerial flights are also common territory defending practices. Apart from breeding season, they live a solitary life. They depend on their speed and maneuverability if attacked by a predator.
They form leks in order to perform courtship songs to attract females. They sing brief warbles or a few repetitive notes. Female visit many leks and finally select a male as per her choice. A male mate with more than one female in one season. Once the pair is formed, female build a tiny cup-sized nest lined with spider webs, tree bark, and moss.
Breeding generally takes place following wet season; as dry season begin with shrubs and trees flowering. They either mate on a perch or while hovering in the air. Female typically lay two pea-sized, elliptical shaped, white colored eggs following copulation. Incubation goes on for two to three weeks. The young ones are blind and almost devoid of plumage at the time of hatching. Female alone take care of the nestlings. They are fed by regurgitation. They grow quite fast and the initial plumage is similar to that of an adult apart from the iridescent ornamentations. Juveniles fledge when they are 18 to 39 days old. Females tend to breed when they are a year old.
This little bird is known to visit the flowers of ten plants (nine of which are endemic to Cuba). These flowers are, Vitaceae (Cissus obovata), Boraginaceae (Tournefortia hirsutissima), Verbenaceae (Clerodendrum aculeatum), Polygonaceae (Antigonon leptopus), Passifloraceae (Turnera ulmifolia), Mimosaceae (Lysiloma latisiliquum), Apocynaceae (Forsteronia corymbosa), Malvaceae (Pavonia paludicola), Chrysobalanaceae (Chrysobalanus icaco) and Rubiaceae (Hamelia patens).
In the wild, their lifespan is around 7 years. They are known to live for about ten years in captivity.
Both male and female interact using simple high-pitched notes that may seem unattractive to a human ear. They can also produce various types of twittering and squeaking sounds. Different males in a single leks sing different notes.
Cuba’s growing farmlands and decreasing natural vegetation poses a threat to the survival of this species that mostly prefer dense woodlands. They are also vulnerable to predation from fish, tropical spiders, frogs and larger birds.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Bee hummingbird in the ‘Near Threatened’ category.
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