Ault male Cuban bee hummingbird.
Photo Charles J Sharp

Introducing “Zuni” the logo of Cuba Explorer travel

Zunzuncito is the world’s smallest bird

Colibrí is the Spanish word for hummingbird. In Cuba, the Colibrí is nicknamed zunzún for the sound it makes when flying. There are only two species of hummingbird on the island, the larger, more common Cuban emerald, and the elfin bee hummingbird, known as zunzuncito.

The zunzuncito is endemic to Cuba and exists nowhere else

Young male zunzuncito from Cuba.
Immature male zunzuncito. Plumage yet to display the myriad of iridescent colors of adulthood. Photo Charles J Sharp.
Zunzuncito is the logo of Cuba Explorer travel.

Endearing, endemic, and endangered. The Cuban bee hummingbird is the inspiration for the logo of Cuba Explorer and Zunzun Education Services. We nicknamed her Zuni.

The bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is a threatened species unique to Cuba, where it is affectionately referred to as a zunzuncito. Weighing between 1.6 and 1.8 grams (less than a dime), it is 2 inches from beak to tail. It’s the world’s smallest warm-blooded vertebrate and lays the tiniest bird eggs – about the size of a pea. The female is slightly larger than the male. They are so petite they are often mistaken for bumblebees.

Fast, furious, and fanciful

Adult male bee hummingbird native to Cuba.
Adult male bee hummingbird or zunzuncito is native to Cuba. It weighs less than a dime. Photo Charles J Sharp.
When flying, its wings flap 80 times per second, and when mating, they beat up to 200 times a second! Its heart rate is the second-fastest of all animals. Zunzuncitos also have the fewest feathers any bird: about one-thousand. It is swift and can fly straight up or down – even upside down – forward and backward, and hover. They can’t walk. They only use their feet for perching.

Thirsty, hungry, feverish, and fascinating

Female Cuban bee hummingbird.
Female zunzuncito lays two eggs, each about the size of a coffee bean. Her nest is one inch in diameter. Photo Charles J Sharp.
Their daytime body temperature is 104°F, the highest of all birds. At night, it drops down to 66°F to conserve energy. They eat half their weight in food, and drink eight times their weight in water daily. Its diet consists mainly of nectar and the occasional insect.

It extracts nectar by moving its tongue rapidly in and out of flowers – up to 13 times per second. In the process of feeding, the bird picks up pollen on its bill and head. When flying from flower to flower, it transfers the pollen, playing an essential role in plant reproduction. In the space of a day, the bee hummingbird visits 1,500 flowers.

Using bits of cobwebs, bark, and lichen, the female builds a cup-shaped nest just one inch in diameter. She lines it with soft plant fibers. She lays two eggs, each about the size of an aspirin. She alone incubates the eggs and raises the young. Chicks hatch between May and June.

Cuba safaris for birdwatchers and nature lovers

Interested in bird spotting in Cuba? We offer special private programs and public tours for ornithophiles. The island is home to 397 species, of which 30 hold vulnerable to critically endangered status. Cuba has 27 endemic birds, native to Cuba and found nowhere else. There are 14 species considered near-endemic. We want to help you witness Cuba and its birds. Call or email us, or visit Birds of Cuba for more information.