Hummingbirds: Facts, Symbolism, Meanings and More
I became interested in hummingbirds after moving to my house a few years back. In the early spring, we had around 4 or 5 hummingbirds that would hover around our porch. I knew enough about them to know that whoever had lived in our house before we did, must have had hummingbird feeders right there.
I went to the store and got a cheap hummingbird feeder and some nectar mix – before I knew that it’s incredibly easy to make at home (see below on how to do it).
In any case, I hung the feeder on my porch and within the hour, I had hummingbirds feeding.
They are a sight to see! Their light movements and buzzing wings always make me stop to watch them.
Hummingbirds and Their Wings
Hummingbirds are the smallest of our avian friends. They get their name because of the characteristic “hum” their wings make as they fly.
Their wings move in the same pattern as the infinity symbol, or like the number 8, but sideways. Their wings can flap up and down as much as 70 times per second.
For many, this type of movement with the wings is symbolic of the fact that hummingbirds can represent the past and future, as well as the laws of cause and effect. They can also represent infinity itself or even continuity and eternity.
Their wings allow them to hover in the air, move forwards, backwards, up, down and even upside down. No other birds in the world have the ability to fly backwards.
Interestingly, hummingbirds also prefer to fly - they really can’t walk.
Because of their expert flying ability, they can easily elude predators. They also have a fierceness about them. There are reports of them chasing off eagles.
They have the ability to achieve high speed as soon as they take off. They can also stop abruptly – even after traveling at high speed.
Did You Know?
"Humming" is actually a really good mental exercise.
It's like meditation and can calm the mind and body instantly.
It makes you slow down your breathing, and you have to concentrate on what you're doing.
Hummingbirds and Flowers
Hummingbirds need flowers, just as flowers need hummingbirds to survive. Flowers provide nectar for the birds and, in turn, they pollinate the flowers, enabling them to produce seeds for more flowers. There is symbolism here, too – it’s a relationship of cause and effect.
Amazingly, hummingbirds can detect flowers that have healing qualities or that will help them recover from an ailment. They know how to search for various fragrances, colors and types of flowers in the wild to aid them as they need.
In Native American cultures, they see the hummingbird as a symbolic doctor or healer because of their ability to use and find flowers to heal themselves.
Their tongues and bills are specially adapted to feeding from flowers. Their tongues form a “W” shape to help them “scoop” out nectar, and their bills are long so they can easily get at the nectar deep in the flowers.
Do you have hummingbirds that visit your yard?
Hummingbirds have iridescent feathers, so it looks like they glimmer. For this reason, some people associate them with fairies, jewels and rain. Thus, they’ve earned various names such as the ruby-throated hummingbird or the purple crowned fairy.
According to Native American legend, hummingbird colors are said to aid in healing or in finding balance.
Interestingly, their “humming” quality is something that humans can do. When we “hum” as opposed to “whistle,” it can help with health and balance, as well, because it allows us to soothe our insides from the massage of the humming action.
For the Pueblo Indians, they used the symbolism of the hummingbird in certain rites. Their colors, expert flying skills and the way they visit flowers allowed the Pueblo to carry these ideas over to human needs.
Could You Get a Hummingbird To Eat Out of Your Hand?
For such a tiny bird, they are big eaters. They can stop at hundreds, if not more than 1,000 flowers in a single day.
They feed up to 60 times a day to replenish the tremendous amount of energy they use during flight. Their small bodies also have to be able to digest food easily to get at the energy quickly. Sometimes, they’ll eat small insects, but they overwhelmingly prefer nectar.
Before they get ready to migrate, they will eat a lot more than normal. This will allow them to continuously fly until they arrive in Mexico or Central America.
Many hummingbirds travel great distances, against many odds to their southern destinations. Some species of hummingbirds will stay put all winter long, but others will migrate south, up to 2,500 miles.
As mentioned above, they will overeat to be able to fly continuously. Scientists aren’t sure what allows them to gorge themselves and yet still have enough energy in their tiny bodies to make such long voyages.
But, this is also why some regard hummingbirds as ultimate achievers: they can accomplish what is seemingly impossible. This is a lesson in enjoying life as it comes, when it comes because you just never know when you won’t have the opportunity to do so. But, it also speaks volumes in being persistent and not giving up on our dreams.
According to some in Native American cultures, these birds can teach us about soul-travel and developing our psychic abilities. They can also help us to develop grace.
These bird naturally like to fly solo – literally. They love their independence and the symbolism here is that we need to cherish our freedoms.
However, when it comes time to make an egg, a male hummingbird will do what he can to win the heart of a lady hummingbird. If she likes him, she’ll reciprocate, but if not, she’ll just fly off.
Female hummingbirds will usually lay 2 eggs, that are about the size of a pea. She is the one who solely cares for the eggs.
The fact that she lays 2 eggs has significance: the number “2” represents the inner-self, the part to which we must all come to terms with, so that we can find our own happiness.
These birds carefully construct their homes. They actually plan and design them! No two hummingbird nests are alike, and some are quite elegant.
If hummingbirds take up residence near you, it might symbolize that you need a change – which could lead to more happiness in your life. It could be as simple as rearranging a few things around the house or completely remodeling, so that you can bring more in more positivity.
If this animal plays a role in your life, it could be your totem.
These birds pass on to you their energy, zest for life, a playful quality, devotion and love of peace.
Because they need so much nectar, this could translate to you needing to watch your sugar levels and make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.
People with this totem also need lots of rest - the energy they expend can make them feel tired and getting some shut eye can help stave off burn-out.. The hummingbird goes into a state of “torpor” when it sleeps so that it conserves energy. It looks like it’s unconscious and sometimes, they’ll even be hanging upside down by morning.
Planting various flowers in your yard can help you to attract these birds. Their favorite color is red, so flowers with tubular shapes – so that they can get at the nectar easier – and reddish hues are best.
If you live in the southeast, jewelweed is one of the best plants you can keep around. Luckily, it’s like a weed where I live, so I just let it grow all over the yard – and I have lots of hummingbirds that stop by!
In other areas, you can plant different flowers. In the southwest, the cardinal flower is a good choice for the drier climate. In the northwest, fuscia is a beautiful selection, for its vibrant red color. The midwest has a suitable climate for the cigar plant, also known as a firecracker plant. Red crocosmias do well in the northeast.
Once you get the hummingbirds to your yard, you’ll also want to have or make a feeder so you can watch them play. Sometimes it looks like they’re fighting, but it’s all in good fun.
All you do is take one part sugar, and four parts of water to make the nectar and mix it really, really well - about 1-2 minutes.
Some people cook this mixture just until it boils and they let it cool.
I find that as long as it's mixed well, I don't need to boil the nectar - the hummingbirds still like it. Try it both ways and see which way works for you.
Personally, I like to use organic sugar because it’s got more vitamins and minerals than the over-refined white sugar. If hummingbirds only eat the nectar I make, I want to be sure it’s the best stuff I can give them, as a reward for coming to my yard.
Indeed, this are truly fascinating birds full of life and wonder.
Animal-Speak. Andrews, Ted. Llewellyn Publications: St. Paul, MN. 2002.
Gardening How-To. "Hummingbird Magnets." LaLiberte, Kathleen. May/June 2012.
http://www.whats-your-sign.com/hummingbird-animal-totem.html retrieved 23 Aug 2012.
http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/facts.php retrieved 23 Aug. 2012.
Spirits of the Earth. Lake-Thom, Bobby. Plume: NY. 1997.
© 2012 Cynthia Sageleaf