The Hummingbirds of the Caribbean


The West Indies (Greater and Lesser Antilles (Windward and the Leeward Islands), Lucayan (Bahama) Archipelago, and the Leeward Antilles) is the home to 39 extant (the count is transitory, see note b, Caribbean-Hummingbirds Analysis Table) species of hummingbirds in seven clades—bees, coquettes, emeralds, hermits, jacobins, mangos, and mountain gems. The West Indian species represents a little over eleven percent of the estimated 331 hummingbird[1] species, and, is more than the number of hummingbird species of the continental United States and Canada, around 23[2]. Many of the West Indian species are spectacular. They are unevenly distributed across the island chain from The Bahamas and Cuba, in the north, to Trinidad and Tobago, in the south; occupying diverse habitats. Mostly, they are considered to be thriving. And the West Indian hummingbirds are so intriguing that they have entered into Caribbean Amerindian lore and into contemporary culture.

But first, the archipelago and the mainland Americas share several species, examples, the ruby-throated hummingbird (a migratory hummingbird), rufous-breasted hermit, and white-necked jacobin, and, like many species from Central and South America, examples, the crimson topaz, Cozumel emerald, and the black jacobin, several of the West Indian species are extravagantly costumed—with crests, jutting plumes, and streamers, and ranging from very small to large hummingbirds: from the Antillean crested hummingbird, with the maleˈs metallic-green-tipped, mohawk-like crest, to the glittering-throated emerald—glittering golden-green feathers on its throat—to the black-throated mango—the females have a striking solid deep black median stripe—next, the long-billed starthroat—the male has an extraordinarily long, straight bill, light-blue crown, and purple gorget—the rufous-breasted hermit—sporting a yellowish or brownish-red breast, and the typical hermit striking, decurved bill—to the flamboyant tufted coquette—adorned with a rufous head crest and black-dappled, rufous plumes jutting from the neck flanks—then, to the white-tailed sabrewing, its name descriptive of the shape of its wings, to the streamertail hummingbird—trailing extravagant tail streamers that rival the length of the rest of its body and endemic to Jamaica[3]—the green hermit, the largest of the Archipelago, at 13cm (5.12in), and the, astonishingly tiny, bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, at just 5cm (1.97in).

An Abridged Debut of Caribbean-Hummingbird Species, with South American Cameos

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Crimson Topaz Hummingbird
Crimson Topaz Hummingbird - Female
Rufous Hummingbird
White-necked Jacobin, Male
White-necked Jacobin, Female
Cozumel Emerald Hummingbird
Cozumel Emerald Hummingbird From Rear
Black Jacobin Hummingbird
Antillean Crested Hummingbird
Bee Hummingbird
Bee Hummingbird on Wire
Glittering-throated Emerald
Black-throated Mango, Female
Rufous-breasted Hermit
Rufous-breasted Hermit, Profile
Tufted Coquette Hummingbird
White-tailed Sabrewing
Red-billed Streamertail
Green Hermit Hummingbird
Caribbean Map, Line Drawing

Images in Order of Appearance

1. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
2. Crimson Topaz, Male—South America
3. Crimson Topaz, Female—South America
4. Rufous Hummingbird
5. White-necked Jacobin, Male
6. White-necked Jacobin, Female
7. Cozumel Emerald—Cozumel Isl, Mexico

Images in Order of Appearance

8. Cozumel Emerald—Rear View
9. Black Jacobin—South America
10. Antillean Crested Hummingbird
11. Bee Hummingbird
12. Bee Hummingbird
13. Glittering-throated Emerald
14. Black-throated Mango, Female

Images in Order of Appearance

15. Rufous-breasted Hermit
16. Rufous-breasted Hermit, Profile View
17. Tufted Coquette
18. White-tailed Sabrewing
19. Red-billed Streamertail
20. Green Hermit
21. Caribbean Map: Greater & Lesser Antilles

<< Left    
Right >>

Caribbean Region by Hummingbird Species

Most islands have around three or four species of hummingbirds with Trinidad and Puerto Rico standing out with 21 and nine species respectively—four of Puerto Rico's species are incidental with at least two species arriving from the west. The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has the greatest variety in the West Indies, 22 hummingbird species in seven clades. The Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Puerto Rico), as a recognized grouping of islands, has the largest variety of species, with 14 hummingbird species in three clades, but only if Trinidad and Tobago, a special natural history case, is excluded from the Windward Islands (Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad, and Tobago), which, otherwise, has seven species in four clades (emeralds, mangos, hermits, and jacobins). The Leeward Islands have five hummingbird species in two clades (emeralds and mangos) and the Leeward Antilles (Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire) has the least number of species with four species in four clades (again, emeralds, mangos, hermits, and jacobins). The Bahamas Archipelago has seven extant species, in three clades (bees, emeralds, and mangos), including the ruby-throated hummingbird which it shares with the mainland United States.

Caribbean Region by Hummingbird Clades

Hummingbirds in the emeralds clade (males typified by various shades of green and females with grey underparts), with 15 species, dominate in the West Indies followed by mangos, 11, then bees (small hummingbirds generally with long, slender bills and recognizable, iridescent gorgets), seven, and hermits (typically long, decurved bills, dark faces, and dull plumage), three species, then three other clades, jacobins (tending large, with all-white tails), coquettes (small, males are lavishly adorned), and mountain gems (a medium to large hummer, with short, decurved, black bills, and the male is green above with brilliantly coloured throats) with one species in each clade. Hummingbird species of the bees clade are found in the Greater Antilles, the Bahama Archipelago, and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, but are absent in the other Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, and the Leeward Antilles. Emeralds and mangos are present throughout the West Indies with a maximum of eight emeralds in Trinidad and Tobago, and five in the Greater Antilles, and six mangos in Trinidad and Tobago, and six in the Greater Antilles. Trinidad is the only island in which the mountain gem clade (one species, the Long-billed Starthroat) is present in the West Indies. Coquettes, hermits, jacobins, and mountain gems are absent from the Greater Antilles and The Bahamas while bees, coquettes, hermits, jacobins, and mountain gems are not present in the Leeward Islands. The Leeward Antilles and the Windward Islands, except Trinidad and Tobago, are without species of the bees, coquettes, and mountain gems clades.

Caribbean Region by Hummingbird Sizes

A greater part of the West Indies hummingbird species are either small (44%) or medium-size (41%), with almost 15% classified as large, i.e., over 12cm. Over 40%, the larger proportion, of the hummingbird species of the Greater Antilles are medium-sized, comprising emeralds and mangos. Large species comprise 21% and 36% are small. One species, 20%, of the Leeward Islands hummingbirds is large, belonging to the mangos clade, 60% are medium-sized belonging to the mangos and emeralds clades, while one small hummingbird species belongs to the emeralds clade. Species of the mangos clade have a substantial presence in the Windward Island but do little to contribute to the rate of large hummingbirds there; large hummingbirds are only 14%, medium-sized species account for 57%, from the jacobins, hermits, mangos, and emeralds clades, while small hummingbirds are 29% of the species. Just under 19%, four species, of the hummingbird species of Trinidad and Tobago are large, belonging to the mangos, hermits, and emeralds clades. Almost 41%, nine species, are medium-sized from the mangos, jacobins, hermits, mountain gems, and emeralds clades. The remaining 40% are small from the emeralds, hermits, mangos, coquettes, and bees clades. 50%, two hummingbird species, jacobins and hermits, of the Leeward Antilles are medium-sized and the others are small, from the mangos and emeralds clades. 29% of the species of The Bahamas Archipelago are medium-sized, two birds, from the mangos and emeralds clades whilst the remainder are small species from the bees clade. The Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Greater Antilles account for the lion's share of large hummingbirds.

Caribbean-Hummingbird Clade by Hummingbird Sizes

There are six species, 15%, of large West Indian hummingbirds from three clades: the mangos (four), hermits, and emeralds; 15 species, 38%, of medium-sized hummingbirds mainly from the mangos (seven) and emeralds (seven) clades, and with one each from the mountain gems, jacobins, and hermits clades. Of small hummingbirds, there are 18 species, 46%, seven from emeralds, eight from the bees—all the bees are small hummingbirds—and one each from the hermits, mangos, and coquettes clades—the single representative species of the coquettes is a small hummingbird.

Caribbean-Hummingbird Habitats

The West Indian hummingbirds inhabit an assortment of habitats from mountains to lowlands, wetlands, forest, forest boundaries, secondary forests, deciduous forests, gardens, groves, plantations, cultivations, woodlands, grasslands, parks, pastures, scrublands, etc. In fact, individual species are present in multiple habitats despite their inclining preferences. However, forests, forest boundaries, gallery forest, plantations, gardens, and secondary forests, together, are the most likely places to encounter most of them. At a riverine system, swamp, or mangroves the bee hummingbird, little hermit, rufous-breasted hermit, green-throated mango, white-tailed golden throat, streamertail, Puerto Rican emerald, or white-chested emerald are likely. In highlands/mountainous regions expect the green mango, Hispaniolan emerald, Puerto Rican emerald, purple-throated carib, rufous-shafted woodstar, streamertail, or white-tailed sabrewing. The green hermit and the green mango prefer foothills, whilst, in lowlands, the Antillean crested hummingbird, blue-headed hummingbird, fork-tailed woodnymph, golden-tailed sapphire, or a green-throated mango may be anticipated. At parks, look for the Antillean crested hummingbird, Bahama woodstar, golden-tailed sapphire, green-throated carib, ruby-throated hummingbird, rufous hummingbird, streamertail, tufted coquette, or white-tailed sabrewing; at grasslands the ruby-topaz hummingbird, rufous-breasted hermit, rufous-shafted woodstar, or white-tailed goldenthroat.

Caribbean-Hummingbird Status

Overall the various species can be said to be flourishing: 34 species are thriving and are of least concern (LC), but two species, the white-tailed sabrewing and bee hummingbird, are near threatened (NT)[4]. The white-tailed sabrewing numbers in Tobago were severely reduced after Hurricane Flora in 1963, but the population has made some recovery. In Cuba, the bee hummingbird is threatened by the destruction of their forest habitat, by agricultural crops, and pastures that displace the natural vegetation. Whilst, no account—not evaluated (NT)—can be given for another two species, the blue-chinned sapphire and rufous-shafted woodstar.

15 species are endemic to the West Indies. All of them breed further north of the island chain i.e., the Greater Antilles, Leeward Islands, and the Windward Islands, excluding Trinidad and Tobago, and the Leeward Antilles. The streamertail hummingbirds, i.e., the black-billed streamertail hummingbird and the red-billed streamertail hummingbird, make their abode only on Jamaica, and the Bahama woodstar and Inagua woodstar on The Bahamas Islands, whilst the other endemic species dwell in more than one West Indian island, in the case of the green-throated Carib from Puerto Rico to Grenada.

Thirteen species are considered to be either vagrants or rare/accidental, to different islands, within the archipelago. For example, the green-throated carib is a vagrant to Trinidad and Tobago; and the ruby-topaz and the white-necked jacobin to the Leeward Antilles. The rufous-shafted woodstar and amethyst woodstar are rare/accidental on Trinidad, whilst the ruby-throated hummingbird and the rufous hummingbird are rare/accidental to The Bahamas. The bee hummingbird occasionally shows up in The Bahamas, Jamaica, and Haiti; and the vervain hummingbird, green-breasted mango, and the purple-throated carib are rare/incidental to Puerto Rico.

Two migratory species, the ruby-throated hummingbird and the rufous hummingbird, make stopovers in the West Indies. The ruby-throated hummingbirds arrives in the Greater Antilles (including Cuba, Jamaica, and as far east as Puerto Rico) and Bahama Archipelago, as well as, Mexico and Central America, from North America during the winter months. Their migratory route crosses the open ocean. The rufous hummingbird also spends the winter months in warmer climes and show up in the Bahama Archipelago.

The presence of two species of hummingbirds, found in South America, the fork-tailed woodnymph [5] and the golden-tailed sapphire [5], in Trinidad are disputed due to a want of records, their omission from some text on the birds of Trinidad since the early 20th century, and the possible geographic miss association in other text of Trinidad with northeastern Venezuela[6][7]. But the islandˈs former physical connection, close proximity, several shared hummingbird species with the mainland—or on the flip side the island's lack of endemic species—and hummingbird migration to the Caribbean from South America that began five million years ago make their presence probable.


The hummingbird has made an impression on Caribbean Amerindian lore and on modern-day Caribbean culture. It has figured in Amerindian place names and Myth. The island of Trinidad was known as Iere, land of the hummingbird, by the Amerindians prior to Columbusˈ arrival to the Caribbean [8]. El Tucuche (the Spanish article el added), is another Amerindian name for hummingbird [9] this time attached to Trinidad and Tobagoˈs second highest mountain peak. A Chima Indian legend tells of the origin of Trinidadˈs Pitch Lake as a result of the punishment of the tribe, by the winged God, for their feasting on vast amounts of hummingbirds, believed to be the spirits of their ancestors [10]. It is used as a national symbol: the Red-billed Streamertail Hummingbird is the national bird of Jamaica [11], it appears on the coat of arms of Trinidad and Tobago [12], and other Trinidad and Tobago's cultural items.

Caribbean Map
Caribbean Map—Greater & Lesser Antilles & The Bahamas

Caribbean-Hummingbirds Table

Works Cited

1. MCGUIRE, Jimmy A., Christopher C. WITT, Douglas L. ALTSHULER, and J. V. REMSEN, JR. Phylogenetic Systematics and Biogeography of Hummingbirds: Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood Analyses of Partitioned Data and Selection of an Appropriate Partitioning Strategy. Systematic Biology. [Online] 5 February 2007. [Cited: 6 March 2014.]

2. Association, American Birding. ABA Checklist, Version 7.8.1. American Birding Association. [Online] November 2015. [Cited: 30 May 2016.]

3. BROKAW, Julia. Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus). Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). [Online] Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2012. [Cited: 17 February 2015.]

4. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. [Online] International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, 2014.3. [Cited: 2 February 2015.]

5. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive | HBW Alive. Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. [Online] HBW Alive, 2015. [Cited: 18 January 2015.]

6. STILES, F.G., Kirwan, G.M. & Boesman, P. Fork-tailed Woodnymph (Thalurania furcata). Handbook of the Birds of the World. [Online] HBW Alive, 2013. [Cited: 14 January 2015.]

7. STILES, F.G. & Boesman, P. Golden-tailed Sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone). Handbook of the Birds of the World. [Online] HBW Alive, 2013. [Cited: 14 January 2015.]

8. ADONIS, Cristo, Jo-Anne S. Ferreira, Dr. Amerindian Languages in Trinidad and Tobago. University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. [Online] The University of the West Indies, 2013. [Cited: 18 February 2015.]

9. KELLY, Matt, and Mike G. Rutherford. The Field Naturalist (Quarterly Bulletin) - The Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists Club. The Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist Club. [Online] 2012. [Cited: 18 February 2015.]

10. Legends & Myths. Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Ltd. [Online] [Cited: 17 February 2015.]

11. National Symbols | The National Library of Jamaica. National Library of Jamaica. [Online] The National Library of Jamaica. [Cited: 16 February 2015.]

12. Alma Jordan-T&T Independence Exhibition. University of the West Indies: Alma Jordan Library. [Online] The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, 2012. [Cited: 18 February 2015.] URL:


Design downloaded from free website templates.