Bee Hummingbird

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Common Name: Bee Hummingbird or Zunzuncito
Scientific Name: Mellisuga helenae

Size: 2 inches (5 cm)

Habitat: Central America; endemic to Cuba and Isla de la Juventud. This species is uncommon and restricted to the eastern slopes of the río Utcubamba valley (an affluent on the right bank of the río Marañón) in the Cordillera del Colán, Amazonas, and one locality further east in San Martín, north Peru.

It occurs in forest edges, second growth, montane scrub and, in particular, thorny, impenetrable Rubus thickets admixed with Alnus trees, at 2,100-2,900 m (occasionally 1,700-3,700 m).

Status: Near Threatened. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature individuals; the species is suspected to be declining at a slow to moderate rate. The historic decline is principally the result of habitat modification and destruction. Much of Cuba's natural vegetation has been converted to cultivation and pasture for cattle, with only 15-20% of land remaining in its natural state, and the recent expansion of cacao, coffee and tobacco production poses a further serious threat.

Diet: Flower nectar; its preferred food-plant is the red-flowered lily Alstroemeria (Bomarea) formosissima, but it has been observed feeding on at least five species of flowering plant.

Breeding: The male bee hummingbird exhibits extravagant breeding plumage, with iridescent, fiery red-pink feathers on the head and throat, which are elongated around the neck. The rest of the upper-parts are bluish-green, and the underside is white-grey, with blue spots on the wing tips and black-tipped tail feathers. The brightly colored feathers are only apparent before and during the breeding season, and are shed shortly after, when they are replaced by more drab plumage. The female bee hummingbird is slightly larger than the male, with green upper-parts, white tips to the tail feathers, and without the iridescent plumage.

Using bits of cobwebs, bark, and lichen, the female bee hummingbird builds a cup-shaped nest that is only about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Nests have been built on single clothespins. She lines the nest with soft plant fibers. In this nest she lays her eggs, which are no bigger than peas. She alone incubates the eggs and raises the young. Nesting takes place between April and June.

Cool Facts: The diminutive bee hummingbird has the incredible distinction of being the smallest living bird in the world. The bee hummingbird beats its wings an estimated 80 times per second — so fast that the wings look like a blur to human eyes.

Included in Songbird ReMix Hummingbirds of North America

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