Bee Hummingbird Mellisuga helenae


Justification of Red List category
This species is declining moderately rapidly as a result of forest loss and degradation and has already disappeared from many areas where it was formerly considered widespread. Consequently, it is classified as Near Threatened. The population size has not been quantified; should new data become available, the species may qualify for uplisting soon.

Population justification
The species is described as 'uncommon' (Stotz et al. 1996). Density estimates range from 2.9-5.2 pairs/km2 in humid and pine forest to 3.2-8.7 pairs/km2 in semi-dry forests (González Alonso et al. 2012). Assuming that only 10% of the mapped extant range are occupied by the species to account for its rarity, the population may thus number c.11,000-33,000 pairs, equating to 22,000-66,000 mature individuals.

Based on observational records (eBird 2021), it is assumed that the species forms three subpopulations in the Guanahacabibes Peninsula and Sierra del Rosario, in the Zapata Swamp and its vicinity, and in the far east of the island. Based on the known population density, each subpopulation may number around 3,000-11,000 mature individuals.

Trend justification
There are no data on population trends; however, the species is inferred to be declining and has already disappeared from large areas where it was formerly considered abundant (Chai and Kirwan 2020). Declines are caused by habitat loss and degradation, as the species relies on mature, dense forest (Chai and Kirwan 2020). Over the past ten years, 5% of habitat has been lost within the range (González Alonso et al. 2012; Global Forest Watch 2021). The species's rapid disappearance from large parts of its range suggests that population declines are likely exacerbated considerably by additional degradation of mature forests. Tentatively, the rate of population decline is placed in the band 20-29% over ten years.

Distribution and population

Mellisuga helenae is endemic to Cuba. Formerly widespread throughout the island and the Isla de la Juventud, it has disappeared from much of its range and is now restricted to a few localities including Guanahacabibes Peninsula and Sierra del Rosario, the Zapata Swamp and its vicinity, as well as in the east of the island in Holguín, Santiago and Guantánamo (Raffaele et al. 1998; Garrido and Kirkconnell 2000; Chai and Kirwan 2020). Although previously common and widespread, it is now rare and localised (Raffaele et al. 1998).


It is found primarily in dense forests and edge of woodlands with plenty of bushes (Raffaele et al. 1998; Garrido and Kirkconnell 2000). It is occasionally observed in open country, including swampland, shrubs and gardens, but heavily depends on mature forests with lianas and epiphytes (Chai and Kirwan 2020). It feeds on relatively small generalised flowers, competing both with other hummingbirds and insects for nectar (Dalsgaard et al. 2012). Nesting takes place between April and June (Garrido and Kirkconnell 2000).


The population decline is principally the result of habitat modification and destruction (Raffaele et al. 1998). Much of Cuba's natural vegetation has been converted to cultivation and pasture for cattle, with only 15-20% of land remaining in its natural state (Perera and Rosabal 1986). The recent expansion of cacao, coffee and tobacco production poses a further serious threat (Dinerstein et al. 1995).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. The species occurs in several protected areas throughout its range.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Urgently quantify the population size. Determine the population structure and quantify the sizes of the subpopulations. Monitor key populations. Protect remaining habitat. Restore suitable habitat. Raise awareness for the species and discourage further clearance of forest for agriculture. Enforce the protection afforded to the species by protected areas.


Text account compilers
Everest, J., Hermes, C.

Benstead, P., Capper, D., Dalsgaard, B., Mahood, S., Sharpe, C.J. & Wheatley, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Mellisuga helenae. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/bee-hummingbird-mellisuga-helenae on 28/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 28/02/2024.