The Hummingbirds of Cuba

Three species of hummingbirds, the bee hummingbird, Cuban emerald, and the ruby-throated hummingbird, favour Cuba. The bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, and the ruby-throated hummingbird are members of the bees clade whilst the Cuban emerald is from the emerald clade. Two of the three species, the bee hummingbird and the Cuban emerald, are endemic to Cuba, but the ruby-throated hummingbird is a migratory visitor from North America.

The bee hummingbird's IUCN status is "Near Threatened" as a result of habitat alteration. It is estimated that a smaller proportion, 2%, of Cuba's land is in a natural state as the rest has been transformed for agricultural use--traditionally for pastures and various cultivations and more recently for expansion of cacao, tobacco and coffee[1]. Birding spots where the bee hummingbird may be expected are Bermejas, La Boca, La Turba, Palpite, Soroa, Soplillar, Las Terrazas, and Vinales.

The Cuban emerald is pervasive throughout the main island and on small satellite islands. It is at home in a variety of habitats including forests and gardens. Birding spots in which the Cuban emerald have been observed are Cayo Coco (Coco Cay), Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Paredon (Paredon Cay), La Guira, La Turba, Palpite, Rancho La Belén, Las Terrazas, and Vinales.

The appearance of the ruby-throated hummingbird in Cuba, during winter months, is part of the greater experience of the Greater Antilles and Central America. Its habitats are varied and include deciduous forest, secondary forest, and gardens.

Despite the island's large size, the low count of hummingbird species, three to four, on the island of Cuba is consistent with the expected amount for most islands of the Caribbean including the islands of the Greater Antilles—except Puerto Rico, which has nine species. Notably, Cuba does not have species of the mangos clade which are present on the Bahamas and the nearby Greater Antilles islands of Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico.

Cuba Hummers
Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

Length: 5.5–6.1cm (2.17–2.4")
Weight: 1.95–2.6g
Description: equipped with a straight, notably short, dull-black bill; male (♂): green cap and nape, iridescent, flaming red gorget adorned with extended, lateral plumes, bluish upperparts and greyish-white underparts; and female (♀): green upperparts, pale grey underparts, and white-tipped outer tail feathers.
Habitat: littoral forest, forest, forest edges, woodland, shrubbery, gardens, lowland, swampland, and sporadically in open country.
Range: Cuba (irregular distribution that includes Havana, Guanahacabibes Peninsula—the western most point on the island—Zapata Swamp, coast of Guantánamo, in the east, and other main island sites) and Isla de la Juventud (a smaller island to the south of the main island); sightings have been made on Jamaica, Haiti[2], and Bahamas[3].

IUCN Status: Near Threatened

Note: The male bee hummingbird is recognized as the smallest bird in the world; and with its lumpy, rounded appearance, can be, at first, misidentified as a bee.

The bee hummingbird is more readily observed in forest with substantial growth of lianas and epiphytes. They have a preference for the showy flowers of the solandria grandiflora—a chalice vine. It has been observed at Bermejas, La Boca, La Turba, Palpite, Soroa, Soplillar, Las Terrazas, and Vinales birding spots.


Cuban Emerald (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Length: 9.5–11.5cm (3.7–4.5")
Weight: 3.4–5g (.12–.18oz)
Description: a medium-sized hummingbird with a short bill and a black upper mandible, white daub behind the eye, metallic-green overall; male (♂): red lower mandible tipped black, bluish hint to the breast, and a noticeably forked tail that is white beneath; and female (♀): like the male but smaller and with greyish-white or brownish grey underparts (from the chin to beneath tail) and shallower forked tail.
Habitat: forest, scrubland, grassland, plantation, garden, park, secondary forest.
Range: Bahamas; Cuba; Turks and Caicos Islands

Note: This species is widespread and common on Cuba and has been seen observed at various birding spots including Bermejas, Cayo Coco (Coco Cay), Cayo Guillermo, La Guira, La Turba, Las Terrazas, and Vinales. It is locally known as zun-zun (zunzún). It is a vagrant in the United States

Cuban Tody (Todus multicolor)

Length: 10–11cm (3.9–4.3")
Weight: 4.3–8.5g (.15–.3oz.)
Description: a small, ostentatious bird with a large head on a comparatively small body; broad, shallow bill with black upper mandible and red lower one; pale grey-blue eyes; yellow-green brow; yellow lores; bright-green head and upperparts; red chin and throat contained by white stripe on the cheek, which continues in pale-blue along the neck; bright-green wing and yellowish-white underwing coverts; white chest and belly; pink flanks; bright-green tail with yellow under-tail coverts; and dull-reddish legs and feet; immature: muted colours; shorter beak, brown eyes, yellow patches on the head, pale-grey underparts, without the yellow lore, the blue strip on neck, and the pink flanks.
Habitat: forests, littoral forests, woodlands, pine forests, secondary forests, lowlands, riverine areas, shrubland, and plantations.
Range: Cuba and islands immediately off the Cuban coast.

Note: This bird is not a hummingbird even though its size is comparable to a medium-sized one and just as flamboyant.

Cuban Trogon (Priotelus temnurus)

Length: 24.4–27.9cm (10–11")
Description: reddish beak; blue to violet pileum (from forehead, crown to the nape); blue to green back; green wing coverts with patterned, black, and white primary and secondary feathers; white throat and chest, bright-red belly; long, splayed tail with red undertail coverts
Habitat: dry forests, moist forests, secondary forests, and shrub land.
Range: Cuba

Note: the Cuban Trogon (its local name is tocororo) is Cuba's national bird[4]. Its local name is derived from its call, toco-toco-tocoro-tocoro, and some of its colours are represented on Cuba's national flag. Somewhat like hummingbirds they can hover while feeding—their diet is mostly flowers, fruits, and insects.


Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Length: 7–9cm (2.8–3.5")
Weight: 2–6g (0.071–0.21oz.)
Description: straight, slim and long bill, up to 2cm (.79"); a ruby-red gorget, appearing black in some lighting; metallic-green above and greyish-white below; nearly black wings; and a dark forked tail; female (♀): lacking the gorget, though sometimes sporting a light or whitish throat patch and white tips on a rounded tail.
Habitat: deciduous forest, forest, forest boundary/edges, gardens, groves, parks, and secondary forest.
Range: West Indies (Bahamas and Greater Antilles: from Cuba to Puerto Rico), Mexico, Central America, North America, and South America.

Note: The female is slightly larger than the male and has a slightly longer beak. It is a migratory bird that winters in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies (Cuba, Bahamas, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico). It breeds throughout eastern North America, including the United States and Canada.


Works Cited

1D'Ambrosio, Ugo. Cuba | Ecoregions | WWF. WWF. [Online] World Wildlife Fund, 2016. [Cited: October 25, 2016.]
2LACK, D. Ecological Isolation in Birds. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.
3BirdLife International. Mellisuga helenae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22688214A40528697. IUCN. [Online] 2012. [Cited: 10 19, 2016.]
4PBS. Cuba: Wild Island of the Caribbean. PBS.ORG. [Online] WNET, March 30, 2008. [Cited: October 23, 2016.]

Bee Hummingbird--The World's Smallest Bird