Hummingbird Bees from the Subfamily Mellisugini

Mellisugini Hummingbirds

Mellisugini is a tribe from the Trochilinae subfamily that is part of the Trochilidae family. The Mellisugini tribe has a total 37 species categorized under 16 genus types. These hummingbirds are informally called bees, as the popular “bee hummingbird” is apart of this family.

With over 261 species of hummingbirds across the American continent, ornithologists and hummingbird scientists categorized the evolutionary relationships of these animals by studying their genetics. Through these studies, ornithologists can now determine the origins of new species, and their relationships to existing species.

This information allows scientists to catalog species by common traits and characteristics. Out of the entire hummingbird lineage Trochilidae, there are five families that contain these 260+ species of hummingbirds. This article covers the lineage of the Mellisugini hummingbirds, also known as “Bee Hummingbirds.”

Table of Contents

Cladogram of Hummingbird Families and Tribes

The Mellisugini tribe is apart of the Trochilinae Family, of which the tribes Trochilini (known an emeralds), and Lampornithini (known as mountain gems) are apart of. Here is a cladogram as defined by Dickinson & Remsen according to the phylogenetic studies done by Jimmy McGuire.


Cladogram of Mellisugini “Bee” Hummingbirds

The relationship between clades and genera – as shown by the molecular phylogenetic studies of Yuyini Licona-Vera and Juan Francisco Ornelas (2017) – following the phylogeny of Mcguire, J.A study.

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Note: William John Swainson established the genus Selasphorus in 1832 to fit the rufous hummingbird, the type species. The name comes from sales, meaning “light,” and phoros, meaning “carrier.”

The genus Atthis (wine-throated hummingbird + the bumblebee hummingbird) was put within the genus Selasphorus, and these two merged together. All the species that were once in Atthis were transferred to Selasphorus.

Species of the Mellisugini Tribe

GenusSpecific Species Common Name and Scientific Name
ArchilochusBlack-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
CalliphloxAmethyst woodstar (Calliphlox amethystina)
CalothoraxLucifer sheartail (Calothorax lucifer)
Beautiful sheartail (Calothorax pulcher)
CalypteAnna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Costa’s hummingbird (Calypte costae)
ChaetocercusWhite-bellied woodstar (Chaetocercus mulsant)
Little woodstar (Chaetocercus bombus)
Gorgeted woodstar (Chaetocercus heliodor)
Santa Marta woodstar (Chaetocercus astreans)
Esmeraldas woodstar (Chaetocercus berlepschi)
Rufous-shafted woodstar (Chaetocercus jourdanii)
DorichaSlender sheartail (Doricha enicura)
Mexican sheartail (Doricha eliza)
EulidiaChilean woodstar (Eulidia yarrellii)
MellisugaVervain hummingbird (Mellisuga minima)
Bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)
MicrostilbonSlender-tailed woodstar (Microstilbon burmeisteri)
MyrmiaShort-tailed woodstar (Myrmia micrura)
MyrtisPurple-collared woodstar (Myrtis fanny)
NesophloxBahama woodstar (Nesophlox evelynae)
Inagua woodstar (Nesophlox lyrura)
PhilodiceMagenta-throated woodstar (Philodice bryantae)
Purple-throated woodstar (Philodice mitchellii)
RhodopisOasis hummingbird (Rhodopis vesper)
SelasphorusCalliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)
Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)
Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)
Bumblebee hummingbird (Selasphorus heloisa)
Wine-throated hummingbird (Selasphorus ellioti)
Volcano hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula)
Scintillant hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla)
Glow-throated hummingbird (Selasphorus ardens)
ThaumasturaPeruvian sheartail (Thaumastura cora)
TilmaturaSparkling-tailed woodstar (Tilmatura dupontii)

Amethyst woodstar (Calliphlox amethystina)

The distinctive features of the amethyst woodstar hummingbird include an iridescent purple gorget outlined by a white bar of plumage. The rest of the male and female body has tones of greenish bronze with an average-sized bill.

The amethyst woodstar dwells predominantly in humid forests, scrubby woodlands, and savannas. Their range reaches several South American countries, such as Eastern Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil, Northeastern Argentina, west-north Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

Purple-collared woodstar (Myrtis fanny)

Recognizable physical features of the purple-collared woodstar hummingbird include its aquamarine-purple gorget and decurved black bill. Females have buff and white bodies and short tails. Juveniles that have not matured look more like a female.

The Purple-collared woodstar, otherwise called the Myrtis fanny, can be found mainly in dry climates, coastal scrubs, open woodlands, and gardens. Ranges mainly from Ecuador to Peru.Distribution and habitat: dry climates like coastal scrubs, open woodlands, and gardens in Ecuador and Peru

Oasis hummingbird (Rhodopis vesper)

Both female and male oasis hummingbirds have green backs and rufous rumps. Females have a white dot behind the eyes, and males have violet or purple with turquoise iridescent gorgets. Oasis hummingbird or the Rhodopis vesper is a species of hummingbirds that you can see hanging around in scrublands, agricultural areas, and gardens. Their primary habitats are in Chile and Peru.

Short-tailed woodstar (Myrmia micrura)

The Short-tailed woodstar are tiny at 6cm long, with an iridescent violet gorget and a white chest. It is 1 of 2 of the smallest hummingbirds in the south American region. Females tend to have duller color, with white and cinnamon underparts. These tiny hummingbirds roam around in Ecuador and Peru in arid climates and lowlands, scrubs, gardens, and shrubs.

Peruvian sheartail Hummingbird (Thaumastura Cora)

Both female and male Peruvian sheartail hummingbirds have metallic green backs, dark tails, and a spot behind the eyes. But the male has an iridescent magenta gorget, while the female lacks this characteristic. These hummingbirds are seen throughout farmlands, scrubs, gardens, and orchards in Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.

Magenta-throated woodstars (Philodice bryantae)

Magenta-throated woodstars (Philodice bryantae) inhabit forest edges, woodlands, and clearings in Costa Rica & Panama. Both sexes have green and rufous backs, green breasts, and a white band on the chest. Males have a purple gorget, while females have a buffy throat.

Purple-throated woodstars (Philodice mitchellii)

Purple-throated woodstars (Philodice mitchellii) inhabit humid and cloud forests in Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama. Both sexes have green and bronze backs and white patches on their rumps; males have violet-purple gorgets, a bronze chest, and a rufous belly. Females have buffy white throats with speckles, green breasts, and rufous bellies.

Chilean woodstar (Eulidia yarrellii)

Chilean woodstar, Eulidia yarrellii habits scrubs, river valleys, and gardens in Chile, and rarely in Peru. Both sexes have short black bills. Males have iridescent purple and blue gorgets with shiny green plumage all around. Females have olive backs and pale buffs with dark bellies.

Slender-tailed woodstar (Microstilbon burmeisteri)

Slender-tailed woodstar, Microstilbon burmeisteri inhabit areas rich in vegetation, shrubby areas, woodlands, and thorn scrubs in Argentina and Bolivia. Both sexes have a black and straight bill, bronze and greenbacks, and a white stripe behind the eyes. Males have gray and molting green underparts and red-purple gorgets that look like mustaches. Females have darker cheeks and cinnamon underparts, but no iridescent forget.

Esmeraldas woodstars (Chaetocercus berlepschi)

Esmeraldas woodstars (Chaetocercus berlepschi) inhabit evergeen forests in the Pacific coast of west Ecuador. Female Esmeralda’s woodstars have yellowish-brown underparts and a greyish-black back, head, and tail. Their chest and tail have green patches, and their tail tips are cinnamon-rufous.

Females have cinnamon underparts and are bigger. Male Esmeralda’s woodstars have blue-sheen green upperparts, white underparts, a white postocular stripe, a green chest band, a forked tail, and an iridescent purple throat.

The Gorgeted woodstar (Chaetocercus heliodor)

The Gorgeted woodstar hummingbird inhabits humid forests, shrubs, and coffee plantations in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. It is the tiniest woodstar from this group. You can see these hummingbirds hover in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Both sexes have black bills. The nominal male is dark metallic blue-green with a pinkish purple gorget, a grayish breast, and white flank patches. The female’s upper parts are bronzy green and rufous. The underparts are cinnamon-rufous.

Little woodstar (Chaetocercus Bombus)

Little woodstar (Chaetocercus Bombus) loves humid and semi-humid forests. Both sexes have straight bills. The male has a bronzy blue-green body. Behind the eye, buffy white line curves down to the chest and a rose-colored gorget. The female is bronzy green above, cinnamon below, and tawny otherwise. You can see them in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.

Rufous-shafted woodstars (Chaetocercus jourdanii)

The rufous-shafted woodstar hummingbird inhabit montane forests, scrublands, and coffee plantations in Colombia, Venezuela, and Trinidad & Tobago. All subspecies have a black beak and white spots behind the wing. Males have Bottle green upper parts, white breasts, and green bellies with a violet gorget. Subspecies females are alike, with green and rufous plumage.

Santa Marta woodstar (Chaetocercus streams)

The Santa Marta woodstar hummingbird is a Columbia native that loves montane forests, coffee plantations, and woodlands. Both sexes have straight bills. Males have green heads, dark blue upper parts, a ruby gorget, gray breasts, and bluish bellies. Females are bronzy green top and cinnamon-rufous below, with a black cheek patch and white mark on the flanks.

White-bellied woodstars (Chaetocercus mulsant)

White-bellied woodstar hummingbirds love to hover around cultivated areas and humid forests. The male has a blue upper part, green breast, and an iridescent reddish violet gorget. The female has bronze and green upper parts, a pale cinnamon throat, and a white belly. You can see them in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.

Sparkling-tailed woodstar (or Tilmatura dupontii)

The Sparkling-tailed woodstar hummingbird inhabits forest edges and scrubby woods in El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Both sexes have a long, black beak and a white patch on each rump. Males have green upperparts, white breasts, bronze bellies, and flanks. Their gorget is violet-metallic. Females have metallic golden or bronze-green upper parts, cinnamon underparts with darker sides and bellies, and a slightly forked tail.

Mexican sheartail (Doricha Eliza)

The Mexican sheartail hummingbird inhabits tropical or subtropical dry forests and shrublands, rural and urban areas, and you can see it only in Mexico. These hummingbirds have a long, curved black beak, dull green crowns, bronzy-green nape, and upper parts. The male has a white line behind the eye and a pink-purple neck with a white band below. His underparts are pale green, and feathers cover his undertail. The female has a pale head with a blackish line behind the eye. Her throat, chest, and belly have cinnamon tinges.

Slender sheartail (Doricha enicura)

The Slender sheartail hummingbird inhabits woodlands, scrubland, and forest openings in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. Green feathers are all over the male’s head, upper parts, and belly. They have long, forked tails, pinkish-purple gorgets, white chests, and bellies. Females have green upper parts, cinnamon-buff underparts, blackish eyes, and shorter tails.

Beautiful sheartail (Calothorax Pulcher)

Beautiful sheartail hummingbird inhabits Mexico’s shrubs, scrublands, and gallery forests. With long, somewhat decurved black bills on both sexes, males have bronze-green upper parts, a white eyestripe, grayish-white breast, bronze-green flanks, and white under tail coverts. Their metallic magenta purple gorget has violet and blue hues; the Female upper parts are copper green with a duller cap. Underparts are grayish buff with cinnamon flanks.

Lucifer sheartail (Calothorax lucifer)

Lucifer sheartail hummingbird inhabits canyons, desert shrubs, and mountains in Mexico (northern) and the US (south). The lucifer sheartail is a green hummingbird with a long curved beak, thin wings, and a white stripe behind its eye. The male has iridescent plumage, a forked black tail, a green crown, and a magenta gorget. Females have duller plumage, a light neck, and white or buff undersides with red trim.

Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

The Black-chinned hummingbird inhabits a wide variety of habitats, like meadows, mountains, woodlands, and orchards. Both sexes are metallic green above and white below, with green flanks and long, straight bills. The male has a black head, chin, purple throat band, and forked tail. ‘

Like female ruby-throated hummingbirds, the female has a black rounded tail with white ends and no neck patch. Juvenile males have purple throat feathers. They can be found in the west of the US, Canada, British Columbia, and Mexico.

Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

The Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) can be found in a wide variety of habitats like orchards, gardens, and forests in Central and North America, Florida, and Canada. These hummingbirds are metallic green above, have grayish-white underparts, and have dark wings.

The mature male has an iridescent ruby-red neck and a forked black tail with a subtle violet shine. Females have a notched tail with green, black, and white outer feathers and a white neck with dusky streaks or stipples. Males have shorter bills than females. Juvenile males resemble females.

Bahama woodstar (Nesophlox evelynae)

The Bahama woodstar hummingbird is native to the Bahama archipelago that inhabits a wide variety of habitats like pine forests, scrublands, gardens, and evergreen forest edges. They have green-and-gold backs, olive-buff underparts, and black bills & feet.

Females have a rounder tail with broader feathers than males and cinnamon flanks. Males have white sides and iridescent purple gorgets with a white stripe that fades after mating season. Females lack purple throats and white stripes.

Inagua woodstar (Nesophlox lyrura)

The Inagua woodstar hummingbird can be found in the Bahama archipelago (Great and Little Inagua islands) in habitats like scrubs, parks, gardens, and freshwater riparian areas. Both sexes have a decurved black bill and a white patch behind the eye.

Males have a reddish-purple gorget and forehead, iridescent green upperparts, a white breast, and a rufous-green belly. Females have green upperparts, a gray chin, and a neck with green markings, a whitish breast, and a rufous belly.

bee hummingbird Mellisugini
Pictured: Bee Hummingbird

Bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)

Bee hummingbirds, also called zunzuncito or Helena hummingbird, is the smallest bird in the world. A Cuba native, the male bee hummingbird, has an iridescent blue back and a grey and white belly. Their gorget is a striking iridescent red that continues to the side. The female bee hummingbird has blue and green plumage, a grey belly, and white tail tips. Loves habitats like forest edges and interiors, coastal forests, swamps, mountain valleys, and gardens.

Vervain hummingbird (Mellisuga minima)

The Vervain hummingbird is found in Jamaica and Hispaniola, wide variety of habitats like dry forests, desert scrubs, gardens, desert shrubs, and urban spots. Both sexes have Short, dull, black bills on. Believe it or not, male hummingbirds lack iridescent plumage.

They have metallic green uppersides and black rump and upper tail coverts. Chin, neck, and breast are pale gray with darker spots. Females have metallic green to bluish green backs and flanks and pale gray throats that are dark at the edges.

Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Anna’s hummingbirds are residents of the west of North America, Baja California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and western Texas. Some of them can be spotted in New York, Alaska, Florida, Saskatchewan, and Louisiana. Anna’s Hummingbirds are green and gray without rufous or orange markings. The male’s head and throat are iridescent reddish-pink, while females lack this coloring.

Male Costa’s Hummingbirds (Calypte costae)

Male Costa’s Hummingbirds have bright purple feathers on their throats that jut out like a mustache. Their purple gorgets impress the ladies, who are green with pale eyebrows and white bellies. Male Costa’s are notorious for their U-shaped loops when mating. These hummingbirds thrive in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and love inhabiting coastal scrubs and gardens of southwest United States, Baja California, and northwest Mexico.

Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)

Allen’s hummingbird can be seen in meadows, gardens, and brushy woods in California, Oregon, Mexico, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside County.

Broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)

Broad-tailed hummingbirds hang around in the highlands of western US and Canada, Guatemala, and Mexico. Males have a beautiful reddish-magenta gorget, outlined by white plumage and followed by an iridescent green body.

Bumblebee hummingbird (Selasphorus heloisa)

Bumblebee hummingbird (Selasphorus heloisa) is a Mexican native but a vagrant in the US. It loves habitats like montane areas, evergreen forests, humid scrublands, and cloud forests.

Calliope hummingbird (Selasphorus calliope)

The calliope hummingbird is a well-known species that love meadows, montane forests, deserts, semi-deserts, and willows. Its breeding ground is mainly in California and British Colombia. It usually migrates to Mexico, Central America, and Southwestern US. This hummingbird has a very distinct pattern on its gorget that look like downward purple stripes.

Glow-throated hummingbird (Selasphorus ardens)

Glow-throated hummingbird is a native of Panama and loves montane forests. As an endangered species of hummingbird, these birds are typically only seen in remote pocket areas of Panama. Their appearance is a mix of rufous and iridescent green plumage; males have a “glowing” orange reddish gorget.

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus Rufus)

The rufous hummingbird (can easily recognize its cinnamon/rufous plumage. You can see them fly around the Rocky Mountains and Mexico; This species migrates the longest distances and through many habitats.

Scintillant hummingbirds (Selasphorus scintilla)

Scintillant hummingbirds hover around coffee plantations, forest edges, and gardens. These hummingbirds call Costa Rica and Panama their home (natives).

Volcano hummingbirds (Selasphorus flammula)

Volcano hummingbirds enjoy high mountain slopes and open habitats and spend most of their time in Panama and Costa Rica.

Wine-throated hummingbirds (Selasphorus ellioti)

Wine-throated hummingbirds are seen in montane areas, evergreen forests, and shrublands in El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico & Guatemala.

bee hummingbirds

Mellisugini family facts

  • Most males in the Mellisugini family make particular sounds using their tail feathers.
  • Hummingbird species in the Mellisugini family are one of the most long-distant migratory birds; this category includes hummingbirds like the Rufous hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird, Calliope hummingbird, Broad-tailed hummingbird, and Allen’s hummingbird. Rufous hummingbirds regularly travel 4000 miles from Alaska and Canada, all the way to Mexico.
  • Mellisugini hummingbirds show sexual dimorphism – studies show the difference in bill size and shape in this family of hummingbirds.


Alexandra has a deep love for the natural world. She likes to experience it fully but also loves learning about the science behind it. She has a special relationship with hummingbirds and enjoys witnessing their beauty and grace whenever she’s out.

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