Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Known for being the smallest of all birds, the Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) weighs only about 1.8 grams and is about 5 cm (2 inches) in length. The male of the species is smaller than the female and it is only found on Isle of Pines and in Cuba. Unfortunately this pretty little bird is classified as Threatened due to diminishing numbers in more recent years. The decrease in Bee Hummingbird populations have been brought about mainly by loss of habitat due to crop farming, timber felling and livestock farming. These forms of human encroachment have negatively impacted on the subtropical and tropical forests and swamplands that sustain the Bee Hummingbird, causing the bird to be confined to limited suitable habitats.

The male Bee Hummingbird has spectacular coloring. His entire head and throat are an iridescent red-pink and he has elongated lateral plumes. The top of his body is bluish in color while his underparts are a grayish white. These colors only become evident during breeding season and are shed shortly afterward. Non-breeding males have blue spots on their wingtips and black tail tips which helps to differentiate them from the females which have white spots on their tail feathers. The female is less spectacularly colored, having only a blue-green back and grayish underbelly and generally looking somewhat disheveled.

Despite its diminutive size, the Bee Hummingbird is an amazing creature. In flight it beats its wings as many as 80 times per a second. What’s more, when it is involved in a courtship display a male hummingbirds wings may beat as many as 200 times per a second! In order to pump blood around its tiny little body, the Bee Hummingbird’s heart rate is spectacularly fast. In fact, it is the second fastest of all animals. It has less feathers than all other birds, as well as the highest body temperature of all birds, eating up to half its body mass in one day. It also drinks plenty of water – consuming roughly eight times its body mass on a daily basis. The Bee Hummingbird eats mainly nectar and insects, nesting in woodlands, shrubbery and gardens.

Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)

February 9, 2009 by  
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Its long slender toes stretch out across the floating water vegetation, it easily runs across the water in search of a tasty meal, this is the “lily trotter” or Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa). Jacanas throughout the world are known for their remarkable body structure and walking on water skills. The Northern Jacana is found all along the coastline of Mexico, into western Panama, in Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and even Texas of USA. This is a truly fascinating wading bird to observe, so keep an eye out for them on marshy waterways.

The Northern Jacana as with most Jacanas is easily identified by its long toes. Their bodies are about the same size as a robin. The body is mostly dark with black plumage on the head and neck. The Northern Jacana has pale green flight feathers and a distinctive yellow bill and frontal shield. Juveniles have white underparts. These unusual birds are also identified by their harsh “jik” call which progressively speeds up to a chatter. The large feet and claws of the Northern Jacana are what give it the ability to walk atop floating vegetation. In fact, the toes cover an area of 12 by 14 cm, thus dispersing the bird’s mass over a large area. They are particularly fond of lake and fresh-water marsh habitats.

Northern Jacanas are known for being quite aggressive and territorial. They frequently fight with each other using their weapons – spurs located on the bend of the wing. Floating nests are built on the water. Female Northern Jacanas are polyandrous and are often spoken of as the prostitute bird. A clutch of 3 to 5 eggs is laid in the floating nest which is built and cared for by the male. The male Northern Jacana incubates the eggs for a period of 22 to 24 days whilst the female guards her males. Once the young ones hatch, they will fledge in 28 days. The father will teach his precocial chicks how to forage for various foods such as insects, mollusks, worms and fish. Should danger approach, he will carry them under his wings. Its quite easy to understand why the unique Northern Jacana’s are popular amongst bird watchers.

Exceptional Birding in Cuba

February 20, 2008 by  
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The Republic of Cuba is an archipelago of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Consisting of the main island (named Cuba) surrounded by four main groups of islands, Cuba has about 350 species of birds, including more than 30 endemic species. Add to this the temperate climate and friendly people and it is easy to see why Cuba is a popular birding destination. There are numerous prime birding locations and many tour operators offering birding tours.

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