Date:September 19, 2020

The Cuban Tody Is A Hummingbird-Sized Jewel Of The Caribbean

A bird that’s almost indescribably cute—and the top of the must-see list of any birder heading for the West Indies. Because although it’s not much bigger than a hummingbird, a Cuban Tody packs a lot of pizzazz into its tiny body.

It’s big-headed. Short-tailed. Brilliant leaf-green with a geranium-red throat. And as if that weren’t enough to be noticed, the Cuban species features a touch of blue on the sides of its throat. Its long, flattened bill looks like it’s built for insect-catching. And indeed it is.

Instagram | @christiantillerphotography

In woodlands throughout the island of Cuba, todies are terrific foragers. In fact, their Puerto Rican cousins have been known to catch up to one or two insects a minute, hunting from dawn to dusk. Their wings make an audible whirring sound each time they do this, and you may find a tody just by listening for that sound.

PEHart | CC BY-SA 2.0

The Cuban tody weighs between six to six and half grams (Anamalia Life). It has a broad flat bill with a bright green upper body, wings, and tail, a red throat and mandibles, pink flanks, and blue patches on either side of its neck. Its underside is all white except for the yellow under their tail (Alexander). The Cuban tody is the most vibrantly colored of the five species of todies (Wildlife Guideline), and it also has the smallest beak out of all the other species of todies (Animalia Life). The colors of the Cuban tody helps to camouflage them in their surroundings of plants and flowers (John). They are similar to a bird found on the opposite side of Cuba called Todus angustirostris, the narrow billed tody, but the two birds are differentiated by slight color differences (Handbook of the Birds).

Instagram | @birddetective

The Cuban tody breed is a very vigorous forager (BirdNote). They usually hunt at least nine feet off the ground (Species Account). Their main diet includes insects, with some small fruits, spiders and small lizards. Their only predators are humans and mongooses (Rieke). The Cuban tody shares similar vegetation preference with the Loggerhead Kingbird, and the Cuban Green Woodpecker (George). Cuban todies can catch between one or two insects per minute and hunt all day long (BirdNote). This bird is incredibly hard to photograph because it likes to reside in thick vegetation and areas of low light. Also, when it is not perching in this dense vegetation, it flies too fast to easily be photographed (Top Ten Birds).

The Cuban tody can be found in a variety of terrain but most commonly they are found in shaded areas next to streams and rivers (Species Account).  Although, they tend to be very adaptable to their environment and will thrive whether in wet, thicket, or woods (Handbook of the Birds). They usually dig tunnels into embankments or hollow tree trunks to create their nest (Wildlife Guideline) and may start excavating burrows as early as September. These tunnels, though  are not the tunnels used for eggs. Instead, they are used as nighttime refuges for the adult birds during the weeks while the egg tunnel is being constructed. During the creation of their nest the two, male and female, todies take turns digging into the embankment or tree trunk (Alexander). They cover the tunnel walls with a sealant, which is a mixture of grass, algae, feathers, and lichen (Wildlife Guideline). In the tunnels they create sharp turns to discourage predators and at the end of each tunnel construct a chamber that holds an average of two to three eggs (Alexander).

© Michael J Good

The Cuban tody has the smallest eggs in the Todus family (Animalia Life). Its eggs are a glossy, white color and have an extremely fragile shell. (Alexander). These birds breed between the months of April to June (Animalia Life). The age and mating patterns of this bird’s species is common throughout multiple birds from Cuba and similar to the birds in North America (Peter). As part of a bonding ritual male todies will exclusively feed their female mates. (Alexander).

There are only five species of todies in the world, and it is fascinating that they are all now found on the Caribbean islands (Wildlife Guideline). The todies do not migrate during the season changes and are protective of their territory (Animalia Life). The Cuban tody is a bird that is endemic to Cuba (Birdlife International).

The Cuban tody is not an endangered species but in fact is a very common bird in Cuba (Behavior and Reproduction). However, due to aerial spraying of pesticides, the Cuban tody population is expected to decrease in some areas (Birdlife International). Also on occasion, people in poor economic situations may eat todies and that can affect their population. Most people, though, enjoy watching them as beautiful creatures (Behavior and Reproduction).

© Emily Holcomb

During a test done in Cuba in the year 2000, out of forty-nine different bird species, the Cuban tody was the most often found present and highest in population all across Cuba (Elena). Different studies showed that the Cuban tody is a circumference species, which means that it is a species that likes to group with other species of birds (Stephen). Research found that the Jamaican tody’ evolved from the Cuban tody (Lowell and Douglas). Paleontologists have also found skeletons of the Cuban todies  in Southern Germany suggesting that they were, at one point, not only surviving and living there,ut also possibly originating from there (Gerald and Norbert).

The Cuban todies unlike other birds are more tame than wild acting when in front of people. They bob their heads, look right at the person and then freeze in a place in front of the person (John). The Cuban tody is a beautifully rainbow colored bird that is tiny as a stress ball, and very common throughout Cuba.

Source: eBird.org, Laura Ericson

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