- While birds come in all shapes and sizes, the world’s smallest birds are especially unique.
- Due to their small size, these tiny creatures have evolved to escape predators more easily.
- Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, averaging 2.3 inches long and 0.08 ounces in weight.
Although birds are the remaining descendants of the dinosaurs, most of them maintained a more manageable size. The world’s largest bird — the ostrich — weighs nearly 300 pounds and can reach a height of 9 feet. But the other end of the spectrum is just as fascinating. These birds are measured in inches rather than feet, and in ounces rather than pounds.
Somehow, these tiny birds have managed to carve out unique niches in their ecosystems—their limited range often indicates highly specialized evolutionary development. Their small size requires fewer resources for survival and gives them more opportunities to hide from predators, while their light weight allows them greater speed and maneuverability in the air. While birds of prey tend to be the fastest, small, light species like hummingbirds are still capable of an impressive range of motion.
Here’s everything you need to know about the smallest birds in the world and on every continent.
#1 Smallest Bird in the World: Hummingbird
Average Length: 2.3 inches, Average Weight: 0.08 oz
At just two inches tall, hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, beating out even other members of the notoriously small hummingbird family. Their eggs are about the size of a coffee bean and fit easily in nests the size of a quarter coin. In monetary terms, each bee hummingbird weighs less than a dime. Or from a more natural perspective, they are only slightly larger than the average bumblebee. Unfortunately, this size also makes them a target for the same animals that feed on bumblebees—most notably mongooses, wasps, frogs, and spiders.
The heartbeats of these tiny birds average a staggering 80 beats per second, but can more than double during the height of mating season. Considering that hummingbirds must feed on as many as 1,500 flowers a day to survive, they can’t afford to waste that kind of energy. Hummingbirds are hard to find not just because they are so small. It also required a trip to Cuba. The isolated island nation is also the only known habitat for the species.
#2 Smallest Bird in Africa: Cape Penduline Tit
Average Length: 3.1 inches
The Cape penduline tit – sometimes called the southern tit – is much larger than the world’s smallest bird. The birds are grayish-yellow and extend from the tip of South Africa to Angola in the east and Zimbabwe in the west. They inhabit scrub plains and deserts, roosting and nesting in tall thorny trees. Their nests are particularly ingenious, resembling wastebaskets, with a hatch that can be pulled shut with their feet.
These roughly 3-inch-long birds are unique in that they are monogamous, but gather in family units of three or four to help hatch eggs and raise their young. They mainly feed on fruits, larvae and insects. They’ve even been known to snatch food from spider webs – a dangerous proposition considering spiders are usually in the same weight class.
Click here to learn more about chickadees (also commonly called chickadees).
#3 Smallest Birds in Europe: Goldcrest and Firecrest
Average Length: 3.5 inches, Average Weight: 0.21 oz
The goldcrest and firecrest share the title of Europe’s smallest bird, but they actually have a lot in common. Both make their home in coniferous forests, but will venture out of their isolated habitats in winter to feed. They are striking across the continent, although firecrests are more common in southern Europe and even have habitats throughout North Africa.
In fact, their size may have contributed to their success as a spacious one. These birds are about three and a half inches long and are able to adapt to spaces that predators may overlook or cannot reach. When they do manage to get into the sight of animals, their agility and small size make them often not worth the effort. Their eggs are smaller, averaging only half an inch.
#4 Smallest Bird in North America: Calliope Hummingbird
Average Length: 3.3 inches, Average Weight: 0.1 oz
The smallest birds in North America are the hummingbirds, whose flight patterns range from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south. This elliptical migration pattern covers 5,000 miles—an especially impressive feat considering the birds are only about 3 inches long. They usually fly low, right up to the flowers where they won’t go unnoticed by larger and potentially aggressive hummingbird species.
But these birds can also be surprisingly fearless. When mating season arrives, they will even go after large predatory birds like red-tailed hawks. Besides being one of the smallest birds, it’s also stunning in appearance. Drones have a distinct splash of magenta on their chins and thoraxes, and they perform a mating dance in a distinctive U-shape that helps to clearly distinguish them from many other hummingbird species.
#5 Smallest Bird in South America: Esmeraldas Woodstar
Average Length: 2.5 inches
Researchers are still trying to figure out the basic habits of the Esmeraldas Woodstar — a highly localized species of hummingbird that’s the smallest in South America. Despite being only 2.5 inches long, males of this species stand out for their bright purple throats and vest-like green markings on their bodies. These birds can be found in deciduous forests throughout Ecuador, preferring wooded areas at higher elevations.
The problem is that they are hard to find in the wild. The species was thought to be extinct from 1912 until its next discovery in 1990 – but even now they are rarely seen outside of the breeding season. Where the birds went for the rest of the year remains a mystery. Unfortunately, it is also an endangered species, threatened by habitat destruction due to logging.
#6 Smallest Bird in Australia: Weebill
Average Length: 3.3 inches, Average Weight: 0.2 oz
Australia may have a reputation for ecosystems dominated by big, deadly animals, but the tiny weevil slug proves there’s more to the continent’s diversity than that. It gets its name from its small size, but it also has a call that sounds like it says “I’m a baby elephant.” These calls are loud and can be heard year-round in environments where this species can be found.
While these birds may be restricted to the mainland, they are widely distributed on land, almost everywhere, except in particularly harsh inland areas. These birds display unique plumage that blends cream and bright yellow, and they tend to make a home where they will spend the rest of their lives. Highly sociable birds, they hunt in groups—often including other birds—and pair up to raise their offspring together.
#7 Smallest Bird in Asia: White-billed Flowerpecker
Average Length: 3.1 inches, Average Weight: 0.2 oz
The pale-billed flowerpecker, found in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has little in common in appearance other than size. This bird, found throughout the Indian subcontinent, is a common sight in urban gardens and can be distinguished by its high-pitched song. They are especially fond of poaching Singaporean cherries from the gardens where they forage, although the largest part of their diet consists of mistletoe.
In fact, these birds have developed efficient digestive systems designed to help them process the often poisonous mistletoe. The mistletoe seeds pass through the body in three to four minutes and form a coating that sticks to the tree. Mistletoe is technically a parasite that sucks nutrients from the trees it attaches to, but it also plays a vital role in enriching the soil of its surroundings. This makes the white-billed flowerpecker an important member of the ecosystem.
#8 Smallest Bird in Antarctica: Wilson’s Storm Petrel
Average Length: 6.8 inches, Average Weight: 1.4 oz
The petrel is much larger than the smallest birds on other continents, but the fact that it can reproduce in such a harsh environment is a testament to nature’s determination. It compensates for its small size by soaring in troughs – despite its relatively weak flight capabilities, it can migrate long distances.
Their travel patterns take them across the Atlantic Ocean—they can be seen from the east coast of the United States all the way to the southern tip of South America. Feeding mainly on crustaceans and small fish, this bird will simply hover over the water, pecking at the surface with its beak until it manages to snag some prey.
world’s smallest bird summary
Below you will find a summary of the smallest birds in the world.
|2.3″ / 0.08 oz
|hanging horned tit
|Goldcrest and Firecrest
|3.5″ / 0.21oz
|3.3″ / 0.1 oz
|3.3″ / 0.2 oz
|3.1″ / 0.2 oz
|Wilson’s Storm Petrel
|6.8 inches/1.4 oz
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I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.