When talking about hummingbirds, I don’t even know where to start. I have always admired their beauty and biology.
Hummingbirds only exist in the Americas, you can find them all the way North in Alaska and all the way South America’s southernmost tip, Tierra del fuego. They are very small birds with the smallest one being the bee hummingbird (Zunzuncito), found in Cuba. This little bee hummingbird only weighs about 0.08 oz. Now, go find a penny and hold it, it is very light right? Well this hummingbird is even lighter than a penny. While in the US there are about 15 species, in other countries like Mexico you can see up to 57 species. Image 1 shows all the beautiful types of hummingbirds present in Mexico and translated names in prehispanic languages.
Hummingbirds and their amazing flight
A common hummingbird you can see in Michigan is the Ruby-throated hummingbird (Colibrí Gorjirrubí). Their breeding area is the largest area of all North American hummingbirds, and the only species that breeds in Eastern North America. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, like other hummingbirds, can’t walk or hop like most birds. Their legs are so small that they have to fly everywhere. All hummingbirds are precision flyers, that means that they can go from flying super quickly to a full stop in a second and control flying up, down, sideways and backwards very quickly. Aztecs thought of them as brave warriors because although hummingbirds are so small, they are very agile, and can go towards where they want to go quickly and precisely.
Do you wonder why they have such a long and thin beak? Can you imagine what that beak is for? Nectar! Yes, like an insect! They use their long beaks and tongue to get nectar from flowers. That is why it is common to see hummingbirds around flowers although they also eat small flying insects. It is so impressive that they can feed on flowers without making any petals fall due to their high flight precision.
Hummingbirds and indigenous culture
Next time you see a hummingbird, please share with us! Can you hear them making any noise? What do you observe? For many indigenous people, hummingbirds are part of their culture. In Mexican culture, they can represent good luck, a protector, messengers from the other side, or represent reincarnated people. In my family, seeing a hummingbird means that our loved ones, the ones that passed away, are doing well. It is clear that for pre-columbian cultures and many Mexicans today hummingbirds are a very important part of their history. I personally think they are so beautiful and the fact that they represent so many good things makes me love them even more. Do hummingbirds have any meaning for you and your family? share with us!
How to attract hummingbirds
Do you want to attract hummingbirds to your yard? You can do so by planting native plants that are food for hummingbirds. Hummingbird feeders can also be used once the avian influenza threat is lessened. This is a great guide that explains step by step how to have a great feeder. Remember to wash it often, especially if temperatures are above 80 F and that there is no need to add red dye because real nectar is clear. How to prepare nectar? Here’s a great recipe you can prepare with your family. If you can’t get hummingbirds in your yard or you don’t have one, no problem! Click here to enjoy a hummingbird feeder live cam. Or come to the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary and try to look for one, Ebird is a great tool to explore the species that have been seen in the area.
Elizeth Cinto Mejía is a Ph.D. candidate in Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology who conducts research at W.K. Kellogg Biological Station. She is a 2021-22 Science Education and Outreach Fellow at KBS.