A native of Cuba, the Bee Hummingbird or Zunzuncito is the smallest bird on Earth. They weigh less than a dime and are so small that they can be seen hovering at flowers and can be mistaken for bees. Both the male and female have bright colored feathers. The male generally has pinkish-red feathers on almost the whole of its body while the female is bluish green on the top with white feathers below to the tip of the tail.
Normally the Bee Hummingbird’s wings beat 80 times per second but during the mating season, they can beat up to 200 times per second! After mating, the female lays two eggs at a time, which are the size of a coffee bean. The female is highly protective of her eggs. She doesn’t allow the mate or any predator close to the nest.
“She doesn’t fly straight into the nest,” says ecologist Ana Martin Gonzalez at the Pacific Ecoinformatics and Computational Ecology Lab. “She perches close to it, then waits there for some time, until nothing is around and then goes to the nest.”
The eggs hatch after three weeks and then the baby birds are fed with insects and nectar for another three weeks, after which they are ready to leave the nest.
This bird usually feeds on insects and nectar from flowers. So one may wonder how did it get so tiny. Ecologist Bo Dalsgaard from the University of Copenhagen explains that in any habitat on Cuba, there are always two types of Hummingbirds, one large and one small. The bigger counterpart of the Bee Humming bird is called the Emerald Hummingbird which is twice as big. Dalsgaard suggests that the Emerald Hummingbird was the first to arrive at the island.
“Later, the ancestor of the Bee Hummingbird arrived in Cuba and took up the role as the smaller hummingbird,” he says. “To avoid feeding competition with the Cuban emerald, it had to evolve to be an even smaller hummingbird, competing with insects for nectar.”
As it is known that many species of living things have evolved to suit their needs and the environment, so also the smaller Hummingbird has evolved to feed on smaller flowers to avoid competition with its bigger counterpart. Its tiny size also allows it to pick pollen on its bill and head with which it can transfer from one flower to another thus, playing an important part in plant reproduction. The small size and greater flying distance gives the Bee Hummingbird a greater advantage over the pollinating insects, allowing it to visit up to 1,500 flowers in one day.
Another interesting feature of the bee hummingbird is that it goes into long periods of deep sleep, a process known as torpor.
“It costs a lot of energy to be a small organism, because the metabolic rate and heat loss is relatively larger,” says Dalsgaard. “Hummingbirds must therefore feed very frequently, or go into torpor, a form of deep sleep, to save energy.”
Below is a short video of the interesting life cycle of the Bee Humming bird.