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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Miraculous Hummingbird


Hummingbird – Half Bird, Half Gem

When the mild gold stars flower out,
As the summer gloaming goes,
A dim shape quivers about
Some sweet rich heart of a rose.
Then you, by thoughts of it stirred,
Still dreamily question them: “Is it a gem, half bird,
Or is it a bird, half gem ?”
— Edgar Fawcett.

The hummingbird -- such a tiny animal yet such a powerful real and symbolic creature of nature.The smallest of birds, the hummingbird is truly a wonder. Although there are more than 300 types or species of hummingbirds, most of these are found in South America. The bird has fascinated almost everyone who has had a "close encounter," and while other species of birds may evoke human discovery and attraction, the hummingbird is surely the marvel of winged creatures. Let me show you why this little whizzer is such a Super Bird.

Hummingbird Reality and Symbolism


"Flying Muscles of Speed and Agility"

* Hummingbirds are built for power and dazzle, hummingbirds are little more than flight muscles covered with feathers. 30% of a hummingbird's weight consists of flight muscles. They have the fastest wing beats of any bird. While in flight, a hummingbird will beat its wings about 70 times per second. The fastest recorded rate was about 80 per second, on a tiny Amethyst Woodstar, and the slightly smaller Bee hummingbird - the world's smallest bird - may have an even faster rate. Common small North American hummingbirds like the Ruby-throated and Rufous average around 53 per second in normal flight.

* A Hummingbird's flight speed can average 25-30 mph, and it can dive up to 60 mph. 

* A hummingbird can rotate each of its wings in a circle, allowing them to be the only bird which can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways or sit in sheer space. To hover, hummingbirds move their wings forward and backward in a repeated figure eight, much like the arms of a swimmer treading water.

* Hummingbirds can move instantaneously in any direction, start from its perch at full speed, and doesn't necessarily slow up to land. Hummingbirds can even fly short distances upside down, a trick rollover they employ when being attacked by another bird.

"Built For the Long Haul"

* So, still not impressed? You probably don't think these creatures can fly very far, do you? Wrong. The rufous hummingbird has the longest migration of any hummingbird species with a distance of more than 3,000 miles from the bird’s nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada to its winter habitat in Mexico. Many other species that migrate to the U.S. travel impressive distances. Ruby-throats make a 2,000 mile journey between Canada and Panama, and the Ruby-throats fly 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico during both its spring and fall migrations.

"Bundles of Energy and Energy Reserve"

* Did you know a hummingbird's metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant? Hummingbirds require lots of energy. A Blue-throated hummingbird's heart rate has been measured at 1260 beats per minute. But, amazingly, in torpid (deep sleep) a hummingbird's heart rate can drop to 50-180 per minute. Hummingbirds digest natural sucrose in 20 minutes with 97 percent efficiency for converting the sugar into energy.

* Hummingbirds don't go into a stupor, but they do go into torpor. This is a unique way of keeping warm or conserving their energy - at night, or any time they cannot get enough food to fuel themselves. They go into torpor - a state in which their metabolic rate is only one-fifteenth that of normal sleep.Their body temperature will drop to the point of becoming hypothermic (about 30 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius). As mentioned above, their heart rate drops significantly. Their breathing will slow to the point that it looks like they have stopped breathing. By sleeping like this, hummingbirds can save up to 60% of their available energy.

* When a hummingbird sleeps and is in the torpor state, it has been known to hang upside-down. If you find a hummingbird that is hanging upside-down and it appears to be dead, it is actually more likely that the bird is just asleep. It will probably not even respond if you touch it. If at all possible, leave it alone and the hummingbird will wake up when it gets warmer. It takes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for a hummingbird to fully recover from torpor. A hummingbird that is very weak has been known not to survive torpor.

"Eating Machines"

* You think these little fellows couldn't possible eat much? In their non stop quest for fuel, Hummingbirds may visit 1,000 flower per day. Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their long bills, they lick it with fringed, forked tongues. And talk about licking - a hummingbird can lick 10-15 times per second while feeding. Their W-shaped tongue darts into the flower's corolla for nectar.  The tongue uses capillary action to absorb the nectar much like a paper towel absorbs water. The tongue's brushy tip also traps insects on their own quest for nectar. For additional protein, hummingbirds eat spiders and strain gnats from mid-air. They will pull insects out of spiderwebs including the spider itself. Sapsucker holes are a double treat, netting both insects and sap. 

* Hummingbirds eat every 10 minutes throughout the day, and even though they are tiny birds, they consume up to 50% of their body weight in a day. It is said they can starve to death in about an hour.

"Beautiful Feathered Chameleons"

* Hummingbirds have 1,000-1,500 feathers, the fewest number of feathers of any bird species in the world, so why do you think they are so beautiful? Like soap bubbles, a hummingbird's color comes from iridescence, not pigment. The brilliant, iridescent colors of hummingbird plumage are caused by the refraction of incident light by the structures of certain feathers. Like any diffraction grating or prism, these structures split light into its component colors, and only certain frequencies are refracted back to the viewer. The apparent color of any particular part of a feather depends upon the distance between the microscopic ridges in its gridlike structure. The resulting colors are much more vivid and iridescent than those of birds with only pigmented feathers.

"Not Bird Brains"

* The hummingbird's tiny brain, 4.2% of its body weight, is proportionately the largest in the bird kingdom.

"Davids To Other Bird Goliaths"

* And, you probably think these little flower-suckers may be fast but not courageous? Despite its small size, hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive bird species and will regularly attack jays, crows and hawks that infringe on its territory.

"Cross Species Lovers"

* Many hummingbird species, including Anna’s, black-chinned, Allen’s, Costa’s, Rufous, Calliope and Broad-tailed hummingbirds, can breed together to create hybrid species, one fact that makes identifying hummingbirds very challenging. And, occasionally, people do spot a white (albino) hummingbird.

* Hummingbirds lay the smallest eggs of all birds. They measure less than 1/2 inch long but may represent as much as 10 percent of the mother’s weight at the time the eggs are laid. Newborns are about the size of a penny.



Hummingbirds are found naturally only in the Americas. In many traditional cultures of the western world the hummingbird has powerful religious and spiritual significance. In the high Andes of South America, for example, the hummingbird is taken to be a symbol of resurrection. This is because it becomes lifeless and seems to die on cold nights, but it comes back to life again when the miraculous sunrise brings warmth. Of course, now you know all about its ability to employ torpor.

Spreader of Life and Fearless Protector

The Taino Native American people were the first people to meet Columbus in 1492. To the Taino, the hummingbird is the symbol of the spreader of life on the earth. It also symbolizes the rebirth of their nation in the Caribbean and Florida.

The Taino also call their warriors, Colibri Warriors (Hummingbird Warriors), as the hummingbird is very peaceful, but it protects its own homeland with the heart of a Eagle. To the Taino, hummingbirds are fierce and independent. They possess the power of simple courage.The history of the Taino tells that the small hummingbirds were at one time small flies that Agueybaba, the Sun Father, transformed one day into little birds.

To Native Americans, hummingbirds also inspire the people to preserve old traditions that are in danger of being lost. When Native American ways were being destroyed by the expanding Euro-American culture, the Ghost-Shirt religion was established to try to bring back the animals and old ways through dancing. The leader of the dance was a hummingbird.

"Certainly hummingbird magic is available to all who live in the New World. 
There is something inside the soul of all of us that wants to soar through sunbeams, 
then dance midair in a delicate mist, then take a simple bath on a leaf.

"There is something in our souls that wants to hover at beautiful moments in our lives, 
making them freeze in time. There is something in us that wants to fly backwards
and savor once more the beautiful past."

Hummingbird Totem

The hummingbird also is a common totem animal. Many people develop a mysterious bond with this tiny creature. The Hummingbird animal totem is a messenger of hope and jubilation. It is believed to be the
creature that opens the heart.

It is also a symbol of love, joy, and beauty. Since the hummingbird is able to fly backwards, it teaches you that you can look back on your past. But, this bird also teaches that you must not dwell on your past; you need to move forward. When you observe the hummingbird hovering over flowers while drinking nectar, you learn that you should savor each moment, and appreciate the things you love.

So, if you have Hummingbird medicine, you adapt easily to whatever situation you may find yourself in and make the most of your new circumstances. You don't waste time looking back and wishing for "what was" for you are concerned with making the most of "what is."

In helping you understand the futility of dwelling in the past, they awaken you to the beauty of the present moment. As they dance through the world, they bring you medicine to solve the riddle of duality.

Also, your hummingbird totem means you could never become addicted to any artificial stimulants, for you find joy in your own heart. You take great pleasure in spreading joy and love and beauty to all around you, and you have the gift of taking that inner joy into new and different surroundings. 

So, when the hummingbird becomes your totem, it teaches you to laugh and enjoy the creation, to appreciate the magic of being alive, and the truth of beauty. Because hummingbirds appear seemingly tireless, always actively seeking the sweetest nectar, they remind you to forever seek out the good in life and the beauty in each day -- that, indeed, the world is a wonderland of sensuous delights full of flowers, aromas, fine mist, and delicate tastes.
In Animal Speak, Ted Andrews says hummingbirds 
teach you how to draw the life essence from flowers. 
"They can teach you how to use flowers to heal and win hearts in love." 
Andrews also says the twittering, vibrating sounds of the hummingbirds 
bring you an internal massage that restores health and balance.

Other Concepts of the Hummingbird as a Symbol 

The hummingbird symbolizes many different concepts. Because of its speed, the hummingbird is known as a messenger and stopper of time

It is not commonly known that the fluttering wings of the hummingbird move in the pattern of an infinity symbol - further solidifying their symbolism of eternity, continuity, and infinity.

Since hummingbirds are amazing migrators, this quality symbolizes the tenacious persistent in the persuit of dreams.

The hummingbird is a messenger.

Personal Accounts

Many people today relate accounts of encounters with hummingbirds and the resulting symbolism they come to understand. I want to end by sharing this hummingbird encounter. Feel free to add your own understandings in the comments section of the blog. This is Debbie's experience:

"I have been a hummingbird lover for several years, and living in Glendale, AZ, we have them for many months of the year. My mom lived with us for a couple of years, then she moved into a nearby nursing home. I shared my Birds & Blooms Magazines with her. She especially liked the ones with hummingbirds. 

"I told her about the new hummingbirds that came to my feeders, and how my husband had discovered a nest with babies at his workplace and took the kids and I to see it. I discovered your website and told her how I'd love to visit your ranch and see all the different species of hummingbirds. She always said she hoped I'd be able to go. 

"My mom became very ill in May of 2000, we didn't know for sure until November that it was cancer, but she only lived for 3 weeks after she was diagnosed. She was the sweetest lady. Everyone who knew her loved her dearly. She never had very much self confidence, never learned how to ride a bike or swim, and she was terrified to fly in an airplane. 

"I hadn't been home very much for the last month (I spent every possible moment with her), but two days after she passed away, as I was sitting in my kitchen with my Aunt trying to make final arrangements, I saw a hummingbird at my feeder. I was very surprised because it was December 16th. But we were so preoccupied, and so very emotional, I didn't say anything. 

"The day for the funeral arrived. After the service, as we were getting ready to leave the cemetery to go back to the church, I decided I wanted a flower from a wreath at her grave. I walked alone towards the wreath and suddenly a beautiful, brightly-colored hummingbird came out of nowhere and hovered right in front of my face! I just stood there transfixed as it hovered and the sunlight glinted off of its brilliant colors. It flew up a couple of feet, hovered again for a couple of seconds, then turned and paused. The sunlight reflecting off of its back was such a beautiful, bright light. It then flew away, going higher into the sky until I could no longer see it. 

"It was so amazing because I had been at the cemetery many times visiting and tending to the grave of a very dear friend buried there, and many of my husband's family members are buried there, and I had never seen a hummingbird there before. I felt as though it was a sign to me letting me know that now that my mother is in heaven, sitting at the feet of Jesus and receiving her rewards for being such a faithful and humble servant. She finally realizes how beautiful she has always been, and she is free from pain, she is happy -- she is no longer afraid to fly!!!"

Thanks for letting me share this. Debbie

 This blog entry is dedicated to Crystal May Chamberlin, to her SOLACE sisters. and to the memory of Kelly Euton.
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