Vervain Hummingbird Species

The Vervain Hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) is the smallest hummingbird species in the world. Native to Jamaica, this tiny bird reaches a length of only 2-2.25 inches (5-5.7 cm) and weighs between 1.6-2.4 grams. Despite its diminutive size, the vervain hummingbird is a fierce competitor when it comes to defending flower patches and feeding territories.

Physical Description

True to its name, the vervain hummingbird is minuscule in size. Its body is compact, with a short tail and an extremely small beak. Males have a metallic green crown and throat, with a black mask through the eyes. Their breast is speckled white, while the belly and undertail are mostly white. Females lack the vibrant gorget (throat feathers), instead having a pale throat with some streaking on the breast. Both sexes have dark brown backs and tails. The wings are relatively short but allow the bird to hover and fly backwards with great agility.

Behavior and Diet

The vervain hummingbird is a solitary species, only coming together to breed and sometimes feed. Males are highly territorial, using aerial displays to chase intruders away. Their displays involve flying in rapid horizontal oval patterns, with squeaky vocalizations. Despite their small size, they will confront much larger birds encroaching on their territory or food source.

These energetic hummingbirds feed mainly on nectar from a variety of flowers, including vervain (the genus Stachytarpheta), porterweed, and heliconia. They use their specialized long tongues to lap up the nectar while hovering in front of flowers. To supplement this high-sugar diet, they will also catch small insects such as gnats, flies, and spiders.


The breeding season for vervain hummingbirds runs from January to June. Males perform courtship displays, flying in arcs and circles to impress females. Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichen on a low branch or vine. She lays two tiny white eggs, incubating them for 14-23 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes sealed shut but quickly grow, able to leave the nest at 18-23 days old. The female cares for the chicks herself, feeding them with nectar and insects.

Habitat and Distribution

Vervain hummingbirds are endemic to the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea. They occur across the island in a range of habitats, including gardens and agricultural areas, forests, and even urban areas. Their key habitat requirements are sufficient nectar flowers and protected sites for nesting.

Conservation Status

While the vervain hummingbird has a small range, it remains relatively common across Jamaica. Its population appears to be stable, thus the species is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. Urbanization may benefit the hummingbird, as gardens provide flower resources. However, habitat loss remains a potential threat, along with hurricanes which can destroy nest sites. Fortunately, this diminutive bird continues to thrive as Jamaica’s smallest avian resident.

Significance to Humans

The vervain hummingbird’s tiny size and energetic behavior make it popular for birdwatchers visiting Jamaica. Several lodges and hotels around the island cater to tourists wishing to observe these hummingbirds up close at feeders. This generates some economic benefits to local communities. Vervain hummingbirds also help with pollination of flowers as they feed on nectar. Their role in controlling insect populations may benefit agriculture as well.

Fun Facts

– The vervain hummingbird beats its wings up to 80 times per second, one of the fastest of any hummingbird. This allows it to hover and fly with great precision.

– Relative to its body size, its eggs are the smallest known bird eggs. They are only 0.3 inches long and weigh 0.18 grams.

– Male vervain hummingbirds make a high-pitched squeaky sound during displays, which is barely audible to humans. They also make buzzing sounds with their wings.

– These hummingbirds can lick nectar up to 13 times per second using their specialized tongues.

– They have numerous adaptations to their size, including proportionally short wings that provide greater lift for hovering.

In summary, the vervain hummingbird is a fascinating example of evolution in miniature. As the tiniest of all hummingbirds, it thrives in the gardens and forests of its island home in Jamaica. While tiny, it exhibits great vigor and speed in its flight and endeavors to defend its feeding grounds. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts will continue to marvel at this energetic jewel of Jamaica’s avifauna.