The (Mellisuga Helenae) or Bee Hummingbird is so diminutive they often fool ‘Twitchers’ and ‘Tickers’ into thinking they are honeybees. Weighing less than a penny piece and with wings so tiny that while they beat they can’t be seen with the naked eye, it’s sometimes hard to believe the bee hummer isn’t a figment of one’s imagination.
Endemic to Cuba and found near the crocodile infested Zapata Swamp, which sits within the infamous Bay of Pigs, the bee hummingbird or zunzuncito—the little buzz-buzz as the locals call it, inhabits some of the most inaccessible regions a ‘Birder’ will encounter. Content in Cuba’s balmy climate the bee hummer doesn’t migrate, as tiny as the bee hummer is it’s hard to imagine it would get very far if it did.
Getting the Girl!
Typically loners the bee hummer only bonds with the opposite sex for the few seconds it takes to mate, but during mating season males do go all out to capture a female’s attention. Most of the year a male’s plumage like the females can be rather drab, but as breeding season approaches male bee hummers put their best foot forward and get a little dressed up. When amour is on the card’s males develop fiery iridescent red-pink feathers on their heads and gorgets, which cascade prettily down their necks. Though their undersides remain the usual rain-washed grey, their pileums and upperparts become a mix of prismatic blues and greens. These brightly coloured feathers are only apparent before and during breeding season, as the season ends they are shed, with males becoming almost indistinguishable from females.
Mating displays see males rocket into the blue skies above, then like a roller coaster that has reached its vertex they pitch forward and free fall towards the ground. Over and over again our minikin friends climb swoop and plummet to show off their prowess. If that’s not enough to get a girl’s attention male bee hummers will form natty little A Capella groups called Leks. When in a Lek males perform the sweetest little jigs and sing their hearts out in unison. Once they’ve found their girl lovemaking takes place while hovering mid-air, with the male letting out wee trills of sweet nothings in the female’s direction. What could be more romantic?
The fruit of a male bee hummers labour is a clutch of 2 microscopic eggs no bigger than 6mm in length. Before laying her eggs, the female bee hummer will construct a tiny teacup-shaped nest out of thin twigs which she binds with cobwebs and lichen. She will incubate her eggs for around 22 days, and her chicks will hatch blind and featherless.
Cuba is an ecological rarity in Latin America and the Caribbean regions. Its complex political and economic history for a time limited disturbances, extinctions, pollution and resource depletion, but that is changing. The growth of urbanisation, agriculture, logging and development in the bee hummers natural habitat has caused a sharp decline in its numbers. The Mellisuga Helenae, once found in abundance across Cuba is now very rarely seen and is currently classified as Near threatened on the’ IUCN Red List’.
Did You Know?
Bee hummers on average eat half their body weight in food every day, which equates to approximately 4 percent of their body mass being consumed every hour for 12 hours straight.
The bee hummer also consumes more than eight times its mass in water daily.
Co-evolution occurs when two or more species reciprocally affect each other's evolution. With this in mind its worth mentioning the bee hummer can pollinate up to 1,500 flowers in a single day. Some 7000 species of plant depend on one or more of the 361 known species of hummingbird for pollination, a notable example of bird-plant co-evolution.
The bee hummer has the second fastest heart rate recorded in any animal (next only to the Asian shrew), with up to 1,200 beats per minute.
The bee hummer can fly at speeds of 25-30 mph and can fly for up to 20 hours non-stop.
Bee hummers can beat their wings about 80 times per second, which can increase up to an incredible 200 beats per second during courtship displays.
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