He’s the size of a BEE.
During the spring and summer, hummingbirds may be seen hovering in midair, dipping their long, tapered bills deep into the centers of flowers.
While these birds are recognized for their diminutive size, their mile-a-minute wings and iridescent feathers make them easy to notice. But one variety of hummingbird is rather mysterious, even if you live in its home Cuba. In reality, it’s the world’s tiniest bird: the bee hummingbird.
With its gorgeous colorful plumage, this small hummingbird is a birdwatcher’s delight (if you can set your binoculars to the right setting). The teeny little bird is roughly the size of a huge bee and weighs one-fifteenth of an ounce, or less than a cent. The bee hummingbird shares the island with its bigger relative, the Cuban emerald, which is more than two and a half times the size of the bee hummingbird.
Bee hummingbirds are so little that they must compete for food with some insects. Male bee hummingbirds guard their favored flora from hawk moths and bumblebees in order to get their pick of the nectar, mosquitos, and spiders.
At such a small size, how can these little birds frighten away the competition? They frighten with their expertise, displaying dangerous aerial demonstrations of flying power.
Everything in the bee hummingbird’s physiology works to keep this little bird aloft. Because of their fast metabolism, they may spend longer time soaring than any other hummingbird. Bee hummingbirds beat their small wings 200 times per second, outflapping other hummingbirds that only beat their wings 80 times each second.
They must devour their whole weight in honey and insects every day, darting through the air so swiftly that they can visit up to 1,500 blooms in only 24 hours.
When it comes to attracting a mate, bee hummingbirds have a somewhat irritating method of doing so (to the human ear, at least). During breeding season, guys create a cappella groups in the hopes of impressing the females. Their tunes aren’t really good, consisting largely of a few warbles or repeated peeps (the same note again and over), but the cache of being in a band appears to be working for these small fellas. Unfortunately, these musical pairings, like so many brilliant acts before them, swiftly disband after successfully finding partners. Female bee hummingbirds build quarter-sized nests and lay one or two pea-sized eggs every year.
The size of the bee hummingbird makes it vulnerable to larger birds, frogs, fish, and even tropical spiders, according to the University of Michigan, but predators aren’t its main concern. Their number is falling because to deforestation and habitat loss.
Cuba’s diminishing natural vegetation and expanding grazing fields and farming pose a severe danger to these little birds who live in deep woods and woodlands. The IUCN Red List now classifies the bee hummingbird as “near threatened.”
But just because you can’t see this tiny evolutionary wonder, doesn’t mean it’s not there.