Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Really Weird Birds: The Bee Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are not considered rare in the United States, but whenever I see one I get very excited!  They are just the type of bird that is so amazing, strange, and tiny, you just have to stop whatever you were doing, freeze and watch the beautiful creature until it buzzes away.

The Bee Hummingbird, native to the dense forests and woodlands of Cuba, is the smallest bird in the world.  It is also the world’s smallest warm-blooded vertebrate.  They are only two inches long and weigh 1.6 to 1.9 grams, lighter than a penny!  All hummingbirds can beat their wings so fast that to the human eye it is just a blur.  The bee hummingbird can flap its wings an estimated 80 times per second when flying and 200 times per second when mating.

Males are slightly smaller than females and can be easily mistaken for a bee as it buzzes quickly by.  During breeding season, males have a fiery red head and throat with elongated lateral feathers growing from their neck.  The remainder of his upper body is iridescent blue and the underside is gray white.  Females have iridescent green upperparts and whitish undersides.
Bee Hummingbird (photo: Wikipedia)
Bee hummingbirds have the highest body temperature of all birds at 104°F.  At night, in order to save energy, their temperature drops to about 66°F.  They mainly consume nectar and insects.  They can eat enough small insects to equal half their total body mass and drink eight times their total body mass in water each day.

Females alone build a tiny cup-shaped nest about one inch in diameter, 3 to 5 meters above the ground.  She uses bits of lichen, cobwebs, bark and soft plant fibers.  She usually lays two pea-sized eggs, which she solely incubates.  Chicks hatch after around three weeks and they have a full set of feathers within two weeks.

Bee Hummingbirds are considered “near threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.  Populations have clearly declined, caused by loss of habitat due to crop and livestock farming and timber harvesting.

The next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary take a short break or have your lunch on one of the benches near one of our bird feeder areas.  If you watch closely you are likely to see a Ruby Throated Hummingbird—the only hummingbird native to the St. Louis, Missouri area.

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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