Bee Hummingbird

All posts tagged Bee Hummingbird

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Bird photography by Hank Davis, DNS Board Member

The last birds on the list were special highlights of the DNS trip to Cuba in February.  They were at the top of our list to see, and everyone was really excited to get great looks at these birds.  Let’s see the final birds…

#2 – Parrots and Parakeets

Cuban Parakeets are a rare sight in Cuba, the only place they live in the world.

Cuban Parakeets are a rare sight in Cuba, the only place they live in the world.

In the small village of Bermejas works a birding guide named Orlando.  He guides people to show them many species of birds in the forest and town where he lives.  He makes his living from this, and I am sure the other villagers in Bermejas know this.  Perhaps people support him by leaving wild birds alone.  This might explain why there are still Parakeets around Bermejas.  In this village, Orlando found a flock of about 30 Cuban Parakeets, and Hank Davis was once again quick with the camera, capturing part of the flock in flight with this beautiful image.  This species has disappeared from most of Cuba because of habitat loss and being trapped as a caged bird.

The Cuban Parrot shares the #2 spot with the Parakeet.  Cuban Parrots actually live in Cuba, Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas and is considered “near threatened” with about 10,000 individuals in Cuba.  They used to live throughout the island, but habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade have seriously reduced their numbers.  Sound familiar?  We saw them in Guanahacabibes and Zapata National Parks.

Cuban Parrots are beautiful, noisy, and "near threatened" due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.

Cuban Parrots are beautiful, noisy, and “near threatened” due to habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.

#1 – Bee Hummingbird

I asked everyone on the trip what bird they most wanted to see.  Just about everyone listed the Bee Hummingbird as their top choice.  After all, it is the world’s smallest bird measuring just 2.5″ long.  For comparison, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird that visits your backyard in summer is 3.75″ long.  The Bee Hummingbird really seems more like an insect than a bird as it zooms around feeding on small flowers.  We were able to see several males in Guanahacabibes National Park, however, this is the only place we saw them during the two weeks we were there, conducting bird surveys over half the island.  The Bee Hummingbird used to be common, but due to habitat destruction, now has a very spotty distribution and is considered “near threatened”.

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and is only found in Cuba.

The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and is only found in Cuba.

The Bee Hummingbird is considered "near threatened" and has a spotty distribution in Cuba, the only place it lives in the world.

The Bee Hummingbird is considered “near threatened” and has a spotty distribution in Cuba, the only place it lives in the world.

During our two-week trip to Cuba, the Delaware Nature Society team of “skilled avian field workers” found more than 160 species of birds.  We collected data on bird species found and numbers of individuals we came across.  Our data was shared with the Caribbean Conservation Trust and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Our findings will be used by the scientific community on the status of resident and migratory species on the island.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

As a young birder 25 years ago, I read an article about Cuba’s famous Zapata Swamp, the largest wilderness area in the Caribbean.  This landscape, similar to Florida’s Everglades, has extensive mangrove-ringed coast, tropical forest, saw-grass savannah and scattered palm hammocks, and some very endangered wildlife.  The swamp is the last refuge of the Cuban Crocodile, is a breeding site for almost all of Cuba’s endemic birds, and is the winter home for many familiar migrant birds who summer in our area.  Three bird species live in this wilderness and nowhere else in the world…the Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, and Zapata Rail.  I dreamt of going to this swamp someday…

The Zapata Swamp resembles the Florida Everglades and is the largest protected wilderness in the Caribbean at over 6,000 square kilometers. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

My long-ago dream became reality on the recent Delaware Nature Society Cuba Bird Survey trip.  Most of Cuba’s endemic species can be found in this huge area, as well as vast numbers of wintering neo-tropical migrant birds.  Our job was to visit several areas in this International Biosphere Reserve/National Park and survey for all of the species we could find.  We spent time in tropical forest, saw-grass/cattail wetland, and mangrove swamp.  A priority was to attempt to find the Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow.  The wren is found nowhere else on earth and the sparrow is only found in a few other locations in Cuba.  A third bird, the Zapata Rail, is virtually unknown to science and lives in remote corners of the swamp.  Even Orlando H. Garrido, author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba has not seen this bird, despite over 50 attempts to locate it.  We did not attempt to find this bird.  If you are a gambler, the odds on finding the wren are about 5 to 1 and the sparrow about 3 to 1.  I should have bet one of my Cuban Convertible Pesos on the wren!  The Zapata Sparrow eluded our attempts to see it.

Finally, our bird survey group caught a glimpse of a Zapata Wren, which is an endangered species. Here we are in its habitat. This bird, which looks like an over-sized House Wren, stays low in dense marsh grass and is very difficult to see. Its entire population lives in the Zapata Swamp. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Another area we surveyed was a part of the reserve near the village of Bermajas.  The goal here was to find another endangered species, the Blue-headed Quail-dove.  Again, this is a shy bird like the Zapata Wren.  Seeing a small group of them required a stake-out of about an hour in the thick, mosquito-heavy tropical forest.  Finally, a group of three walked out of the forest onto the path in front of us.  They departed as quickly as they appeared.  After seeing these very rare and beautiful birds, we were free to speak at a volume more than a whisper and slap mosquitoes with vigor.

After finding the Blue-headed Quail-dove, our guides knew which dead tree to inspect to find a Bare-legged Owl, another Cuban endemic species. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

One of the most exciting finds of the trip was a Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. At 2.5 inches, this endemic Cuban bird was a "must see" for our group. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

I think that our favorite part of the Zapata Swamp was the area near La Salina.  After traveling for miles on a dirt road through tropical forest, we came into seemingly endless mangrove swamp with open stretches of shallow water.  The birding got really exciting here, as we saw multitudes of familiar herons and egret plus rare Reddish Egrets, pink Roseate Spoonbills, and about 400 American Flamingo!

The area near La Salina in the Zapata Swamp was incredible for wading birds such as these American Flamingo. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The Cuban Black-hawk, otherwise known as the "crab hawk" lives in coastal areas of Cuba and feeds on...you guessed it...crabs! It is considered "near threatened" and we saw several of them in the mangrove forests. Photo by Rachel Cameron

The Director of the Zapata National Park (left) and Giraldo Alayon (our naturalist guide for the trip) scan the area for birds in the park. Photo by Marilyn Henry

The natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and shear size of the Zapata Swamp is unequaled in the Caribbean.  Similar to the Florida Everglades, this exciting wilderness is a dream to visit for a naturalist and birder.  Our group of 11 visitors from the Delaware Nature Society could have spent many more days here exploring, learning, and birding.  Unfortunately, we had to leave to survey birds in another part of Cuba.  Fortunately, more of Cuba’s incredible natural areas awaited, and more bird discoveries were headed our way.

More on the two-week Delaware Nature Society trip to Cuba is on the way in future posts.  Stay tuned!