Hummingbird Facts and Symbolism
Hummingbirds are part of the order Apodiformes and the family Trochilidae. They are tiny little birds that are typically three to five inches in length; some species (and there are hundreds of species) are no larger than a bumblebee.
They are named for the sound their wings make, which sounds like a hum. This is caused by how fast they beat their wings, which can be anywhere from 12 to 80 beats per second, allowing them to hover similar to a dragonfly. They are also the only family of birds that can fly in reverse, and they are able to fly at speeds of 34mph or faster.
These fascinating little birds have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state, called torpor, which allows them to conserve their energy in times of food scarcity or while they are sleeping. They drink nectar, and are able to determine the amount of sugar in the nectar, similar to bees. They have quite a sweet tooth, and will not drink any nectar that is less than 10 percent sugar. However, nectar doesn’t provide all the nutrients the hummingbird needs. To make up the difference, they snack on insects and spiders.
The Home of the Hummingbirds
Symbolic Beliefs Among Civilizations
Hummingbirds are only found in North, Central and South America. All the myths and folklore surrounding them come from ancient civilizations found in these areas including the Mayans and Aztecs among others.
The Mayans believed that the very first wedding ever performed on Earth was between two hummingbirds. They also believed hummingbirds were created by the Great God using the leftover pieces of all the other birds he had made. Because of their tiny size, the Great God gave them an incredible flight ability enabling them to hover, fly backwards and upside down.
The patron god of the Aztecs was named Hitzilopochti, which means “The Hummingbird on the Left.” He was also the God of the Sun and War and could be identified by the bracelet of hummingbird feathers he wore around his left wrist. The Aztecs believed the hummingbird was a symbol of rebirth, and that if they died in battle they would be reincarnated as one of the tiny birds.
The Taino people were indigenous to the areas that we currently know as Columbia, the Bahamas, and the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles and were relatives of the Arawak people located in South America.
The Taino saw the hummingbirds as a symbol of rebirth. In fact, the hummingbird was the symbol for the one who spread life across the world. The Taino myth of the hummingbirds states there were at one time flies that had been transformed by Agueybaba, the Sun God. They were a symbol of peace and protection. Interestingly, however, the Taino warriors were called Calibri Warriors, or Hummingbird Warriors.
Several other traditions have different myths about the hummingbird.
- The Cherokee believed their medicine men would take the form of a hummingbird in order to find a missing plant.
- The Hopi and Zuni thought hummingbirds intervened and spoke with the Gods convincing them to bring rain to humankind. Because of this they painted water jars with the image of hummingbirds.
- The people of the Caribbean thought the spirits of relatives resided in the tiny birds.
- The Spanish called the birds Joyas Voladores which meant Flying Jewels.
Hummingbirds represent the element of Air, and therefore take on the meaning of the Air element, which is associated with intelligence, higher thought processes, logic and the ability to see the “big picture.”
The pattern created when a hummingbird flaps their wings is the symbol for infinity, which explains why they are a symbol of eternity, infinity and continuity. They are also symbols of persistence because they are constantly on the move looking for nectar.
Like the peoples of the Americas, pagans also believe hummingbirds have meaning and magical attributes. Because it is an air element, it has many similarities with the dragonfly and the butterfly. It is associated with rebirth, dreams and messages. The hummingbird feather has been used in spells for love. The bird itself can be invoked for performing magic related to happiness, truth, balance and relaxation.
As a totem, and because of its ability to fly backwards, the hummingbird reminds us that we should reflect on our past, but not get stuck in it; we have to move forward. The bird urges us to be persistent in life, and to never give up. The hummingbird also reminds us that balance is the key; we must find harmony in our lives in order to be truly happy.
© 2012 Melissa Flagg OSC