The Biggest and the Smallest

WC was asked recently what was the biggest and the smallest bird he has photographed.

The biggest is pretty easy: it’s the Greater Rhea, photographed in the Brazillian Pantanal.

Greater Rhea, Pantanal, Brazil

Greater Rhea, Pantanal, Brazil

With a mass of as much as 20-25 kilograms (55 pounds) and a height of 1.7 meters (5 feet seven inches), nothing else comes close. It’s flightless, of course, but you’d have to go to Africa to find a bigger bird.

The smallest is less clear. The smallest bird on the planet is the Bee Hummingbird, endemic to Cuba, which WC has not (yet) seen. After that, things get a little fuzzy. There are a whole lot of very small hummingbirds. Sexual dimorphism, how you measure “size” and subspecies further cloud the answer. Probably the smallest – certainly one of the smallest – birds WC has photographed is North America’s Costa’s Hummingbird, which weigh a little less than three grams. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in flash.

Costa's Hummingbird, Madera Canyon, Arizona

Costa’s Hummingbird, Madera Canyon, Arizona

This bird is about three inches long (8 centimeters). By way of contrast, the Bee Hummingbird is weighs 2.6 g (0.092 oz) and is 6.1 cm (2.4 in) long. If you want to exclude hummingbirds – inexcusable, in WC’s view – WC would have to do some research to figure out the smallest bird. But if you insist, it’s probably the Black-capped Pygmy Tyrannulet, a bird that is a whole lot shorter than its name.

Black-capped Pygmy Tyrannulet, Panama

Black-capped Pygmy Tyrannulet, Panama

The males of this species weigh about 6.5 grams, and have a body length of about 6.5 centimeters. About twice the weight of a Costa’s Hummingbird, but about the same length. Either this species of it’s close cousin, the Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant (seen, but not yet photographed) is the smallest passerine (songbird) in the Western Hemisphere.

Another example of a seemingly simple question having a complicated answer.