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Have you ever been startled by a hummingbird that flutters past your shoulders, fascinated by the way it hovers around you so effortlessly? Perhaps you thought it was trying to tell you something?
This tiny curiosity was also noticed by the Mayans, Indigenous peoples with deep roots to Mesoamerica (a region that is now modern-day Mexico and Central America). In an ancient Mayan legend, it was believed that a hummingbird’s task was to spread good wishes and thoughts between humans and their deceased loved ones in the afterlife—and anyone that dares to capture a hummingbird for its beautiful plumage and interfere with its divine mission would be punished by the gods.
Hummingbirds are not only admired for their beauty, but for their speed, lightness, and ferocious courage when facing a bigger bird—especially because of their small size. All of these characteristics of the hummingbird were attributes that both ancient and modern Mexicans valued: authenticity, bravery, and strength—perhaps one of the reasons why Frida Kahlo chose to include a hummingbird in one of her famous self-portraits, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.
The hummingbird family is very large, with about 365 species found in the Americas, but only 15 species can be found residing in the United States. The Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna, and Colibrí Cabeza Roja in Spanish) is a species that is commonly found here in the Sonoran Desert and along the Pacific coast as a permanent resident.
The Anna’s Hummingbird’s range has expanded all the way up to British Columbia in the north and Arizona in the east, perhaps helped by flowers and feeders in suburban gardens. They feed on nectar and help pollinate flowers, giving them a very important role in the health of an ecosystem.
So, the next time you see a hummingbird, take a breath and observe the ways you can learn from it—and what it might be telling you.
This Bird of the Month blog is dedicated to Genaro Ruiz, the late Director of the Rio Salado Audubon Center who was an outstanding advocate and beloved friend of the South Phoenix community, and whose favorite bird also happened to be a hummingbird.