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.

Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis) is a small wader and looks similar to the elegant Greenshank, which has very long yellow legs and a long fine bill. The coloring of the two birds is also similar, both have a greyish brown plumage that is pale in winter and has a white line running up its back, which can easily be seen in flight. The Sandpiper breeds between the months April through to August and only in temperate zones. They will go from South-eastern Europe all the way through Russia to Western Siberia and Ussuriland. The courtship song of the sandpiper is a repeated tu-ee-u, tu-ee-u, but when they are on the breeding grounds and something alarms them, then they will make a sharp chip sound.

The Marsh Sandpipers will nest in grassy areas and by muddy shores of freshwater pools, thick grassy vegetation and boreal wetlands and if worse comes to worse they may tolerate brackish water. Their nests are never in large groups, mostly solitary or in loose colonies where the nests are far a part from each other. Both the male and female will take turns in incubating eggs and raising the juveniles.

Sandpipers will either spend their winter in sub-Saharan Africa and in India or they will head to Europe and a few will go to Southeast Asia and Australia. These birds are not scared by distance and will fly for long times with no stops at passage sites on their migration route. The birds that are not breeding may prefer to stay at their winter grounds throughout the year or spend summer at different sites.

The Marsh Sandpipers are threatened specifically by the overuse of herbicides and insecticides because of their tendency to forage in cultivated wetlands like rice fields. The Sandpiper is closely related to the Wood sandpiper and the Common Redshank. These birds find their food by probing in wet mud or shallow water and eat a large amount of insects and other similar type prey. The Marsh Sandpiper is one of the many species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Water Birds applies.