Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas


Information about the biology and lifecycle of hummingbirds is woven together with retellings of hummingbird folklore from various indigenous peoples of the Americas. Each folklore story offers a cultural explanation for a specific characteristic of these amazing flyers.

Read More Show Less
... See more details below
$12.24 price
(Save 27%)$16.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (14) from $1.99   
  • New (7) from $7.38   
  • Used (7) from $1.99   
Note: Kids' Club Eligible. See More Details.
Sending request ...


Information about the biology and lifecycle of hummingbirds is woven together with retellings of hummingbird folklore from various indigenous peoples of the Americas. Each folklore story offers a cultural explanation for a specific characteristic of these amazing flyers.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Denise A. Lockett
Fascinating and colorful, this text provides a wealth of information about the hummingbird, its characteristics and habits. Using the original method of blending native folklore about the hummingbird along with an encyclopedic scope of information about their biology, habitat and habits, the book will delight anyone who is an aficionado. The most striking feature of the book is its use of colorful quilted imagery to illustrate the birds' features. Divided into topical sections such as "Size and Physical Characteristics," "Flight," "Vocalization" and "Habitat," each section offers a corresponding tale from a native North or South American culture. This mix of the creative and the factual is enlightening and entertaining at once. The only missing element is the lack of photography. Although the text is well-illuminated by the gorgeous illustrations, because it purports to be an introduction to hummingbirds, it would have been more complete with photos and would have lost nothing by combining them with the fabric depictions. For example, the giant stone image of a hummingbird that was created centuries ago by the Nazca tribe on the plateaus of Peru is poorly illustrated by offering the thread version; only those who have seen the world-famous photo image can understand clearly the quilted depiction. The glossary contains appropriate entries and information, and the four pages of additional resources that follow it are replete with useful references, comprised of current websites and books as well as a list of hummingbird sanctuaries for the budding birder. Reviewer: Denise A. Lockett
Kirkus Reviews

A very nicely conceived title that does not entirely cohere. The authors have compiled a lot of information about hummingbirds: their biological orders, families and species; their habits and patterns; their migrations and physical characteristics. They keep at the forefront what makes these tiny, strong, territorial flyers so fascinating and why they are so astonishingly beautiful (it's not the colors in the feathers, it's the way the feathers refract light, like a prism.) Each short chapter discusses a physiological or behavioral characteristic and presents a hummingbird legend or story, woven from various versions of tales from Navajo, Aztec, Taino and other indigenous peoples of the Americas. Yorinks has created all the illustrations with fabric collage—cotton, silk, paints, glitter—from small spots to double-page spreads in which the text floats on the images. The text does not always read smoothly, there is some repetition and the rather odd inclusion of a small quilt with the actor Alan Arkin's image (he's a hummingbird fan) that adds to the hodgepodge feel. (foreword, glossary, bibliography, hummingbird sanctuaries, art notes, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—In a narrative that flows easily between fact and lore, hummingbird behavior is thoroughly described and interwoven with the folktales it generated among Native American peoples. These birds must consume one-and-a-half times their body weight each day in nectar and insects. The pourquoi tale from the Hitchiti people of the Southeast United States explains that Hummingbird lost a race to Heron (and its right to eat fish) by constantly stopping to sip nectar from the flowers. All the stories show how ancient people answered the "how and why" questions of the behaviors they observed, and these stories beautifully echo modern-day scientific observations. The full-color photos of quilts and embroidery by Yorinks invite readers to stop and savor each one. This colorful combination of fact and folklore is amplified by a glossary with nicely detailed definitions, a list of hummingbird sanctuaries, and sources of the folktales.—Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580893329
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 64
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 1120L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanette Larson is the author of professional books for librarians, including BRINGING MYSTERIES ALIVE FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS (Linwood). She also served as a compiler and contributor for QUILT OF STATES (National Geographic), which features fabric art by Adrienne Yorinks. She lives in Pflugerville, Texas.

Adrienne Yorinks has illustrated many picture books, including THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF A VERY DISTINGUISHED DOG (Henry Holt) and STAND FOR CHILDREN (Hyperion). She lives in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


Size and Physical Characteristics....................8
Why the Hummingbird's Throat Is Red....................11
Diet and Food....................14
Why the Hummingbird Drinks Nectar....................17
Plumage and Color....................20
How the Hummingbird Got Its Colors....................21
How the Hummingbird Won the Race....................27
Why the Hummingbird Lives in the Mountains....................31
Why the Hummingbird Migrates to Mexico....................35
Courtship and Reproduction....................38
Why the Hummingbird Is Attracted to the Color Red....................43
Why the Hummingbird Has No Song....................47
Why the Hummingbird Is a Fearless Warrior....................51
Additional Reading/Bibliography/Tale Sources....................59
Read More Show Less

First Chapter


Facts and Folklore from the Americas
By Jeanette Larson Adrienne Yorinks


Copyright © 2011 Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58089-333-6

Chapter One

Size and Physical Characteristics

Hummingbirds are part of the order Apodiformes (ay-pod-uh-FORM-eez), meaning unfooted birds. There are three families in this order: hummingbirds, tree swifts, and swifts. The scientific name for the hummingbird family is Trochilidae (troh-KIL-uhdee). The hummingbird family is divided into two subfamilies: Phaethornithinae (FEE-thorn-ih-thin-ee), or hermits, which has thirty-four species; and Trochilinae (troh-KIL-uh-nee), or typical hummingbirds, which has close to three hundred species.

Hummingbirds defy the limitations of their tiny size and other physical constraints that most species could not conquer. When early European explorers first saw a hummingbird, they thought it was a cross between an insect and a bird because of its small size. Hummingbirds weigh between 0.07 ounces (2 grams) and 0.70 ounces (20 grams). It would take almost fourteen bee hummingbirds, the smallest hummingbirds, to amount to just 1 ounce (28.35 grams). If you hold two pages of notebook paper, this is what the weight of an average hummingbird would feel like.

Like all birds, hummingbirds are warm blooded. Their metabolic rate, the speed at which they perform basic body processes, is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate in the animal kingdom.

A unique trait of hummingbirds, however, is that they are the only birds that can hover for prolonged periods in still air. Hummingbirds are most attracted to flowers that are large and tubular, but these flowers do not have a place for birds to perch. This is not a problem for the hummers, thanks to their ability to hover while feeding in mid-air. Hummingbirds feed for roughly two hours each day in order to maintain their amazing flight abilities, and when they are not migrating, defending territory, or involved in courtship and breeding, they perch for the remaining active time, about sixteen hours. If they are inactive for a long period of time or if they are cold, hummingbirds enter a state called torpor, in which all their body processes slow down, in order to conserve energy.

Bill length and the shape of the bill vary between species of hummingbirds. Some have straight bills and some have sickle-shaped bills. They all lick nectar with their tongues in the same way but may visit slightly different types of flowers.

Compared to other birds, hummingbirds have rigid wings, short arms, long wing bones called hand bones, and short, weak legs. They have a remarkably flexible shoulder joint, which allows their wings to rotate almost 180 degrees. This accounts for their ability to hover while keeping their body motionless, much like a helicopter.

There is great variation in hummingbird plumage coloration. Males are more colorful than females in most species. Body feathers are basically black or rufous, a rusty brown color. The feathers of the colorful gorget (throat patch) and crown (top of the head) sparkle brilliantly when reflected by the sun. These areas are most pronounced in males and are used to signal rival males and to court females.

An Ohlone Legend: Why the Hummingbird's Throat Is Red

Several hummingbirds, including the ruby-throated hummingbird (the most common species found in eastern North America) and Anna's hummingbird (found in Central and Southern California), have red or magenta feathers on their throats. A legend told by the Ohlone, an indigenous people of the central California coast, explains how this came to be.

Once, a long time ago, the birds were very hungry. There was food to be found in the mountains where Hummingbird, Eagle, Raven, and Hawk lived, but water had covered the world so there was no fire to cook the food. Eagle knew that the Badger people who lived underground had fire, and he sent little Hummingbird to get some fire from them. They refused to share the fire, and little Hummingbird returned to the mountain. Angry, Eagle told Hummingbird to return to the Badger people. This time they saw Hummingbird coming and hid the fire. They covered the fire with an old deerskin to keep it from him. But the deerskin had a hole where an arrow had pierced it. Hummingbird used his long slender beak to reach through the hole and grab a burning ember. Before he could tuck the ember safely away, the ember flamed up, turning his throat red. It is said that this is how fire came to the world again and why the hummingbird's throat is red.

Diet and Food

Hummingbirds must consume one-and-a-half times their body weight in nectar—an easily digested sucrose, or sugar, solution produced by flowers—each day to keep up their metabolic rate. Nectar is a mixture of water and sugar, so they consume half of their body weight in sugar daily. Imagine eating half of your body weight in candy bars every day! Although they get a lot of water from nectar, they occasionally drink water from leaves.

Hummingbirds fill their crop, a pouch in their throat for storing food, with nectar. They can eat, digest, and eliminate it from their bodies in less than fifteen minutes. This leaves them light and able to hover without having to carry undigested material in their bodies for a long period of time. Hovering requires lightness and is the most energy-intensive form of locomotion for any animal, which is why hummingbirds need to consume so many easily digestible calories. Compare the hummingbird diet with that of a vulture. Vultures will consume as much as possible when food is available. After gorging on carrion (the carcass of a dead animal) which requires a long time to digest, vultures are so heavy that they cannot take off in flight for some time.

Hummingbirds also eat insects and spiders, which provide necessary protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Hummingbirds particularly need protein in order to grow new feathers every year.

Still, nectar is the most important part of the hummingbird diet. Hummingbirds have a brush-tipped, deeply split tongue, each side of which is rolled into a tube to lap up nectar at thirteen flicks per second. Hummingbirds are masters at finding nectar.

Finding the choicest nectar

Hummingbirds have far better color vision than humans. They can see all the colors of the rainbow that we see, as well as ultraviolet colors. Colors in the ultraviolet spectrum are invisible to humans or else perceived as black. Some flowers develop ultraviolet patterns when they are most fertile, which is when they're richest with nectar. In addition to flowers with ultraviolet patterns, hummingbirds seem to prefer red flowers. Red flowers are easily seen in flight, particularly against a green background of foliage. Also, insects don't perceive red, so hummingbirds aren't in direct competition with insects for the nectar of red flowers. Scientists have found, though, that hummingbirds will adapt to any color flower that yields the best nectar in a given location. Hummingbirds have also evolved other behaviors to eliminate food competitors. They are active at first light, long before bees and other cold-blooded insects have warmed up enough to search for food.

Not only do hummingbirds have better vision than humans, but they also have an astounding memory. They remember which flowers they have already drained of nectar and pass over them. The following year during migration, however, they will visit the same flowers from the previous year. They also remember which bird feeders provided nectarlike sucrose. When you think about the rufous hummingbird, which migrates 2,500 miles (4,023 kilometers) each way every year, this is remarkable. The same hummingbirds might visit your feeder every year, so remember to keep it in the same location and make sure the sucrose solution is fresh and plentiful.

Catching prey

Hummingbirds catch insects and spiders in two ways. They fly straight toward an insect with their bill agape so the insect goes directly to the back of their mouth, where they swallow it. They also hover around leaves and tree trunks and catch their prey by grasping it with the tip of their bill, tossing it into the air, and flying toward it to take it into their mouth.


If hummingbirds can't feed because of severe weather, they enter a state of torpor, or suspended animation, to conserve energy. In this state hummingbirds appear almost lifeless, similar to a bear in hibernation. Torpor is effective in conserving energy and body heat. Most hummingbirds have evolved the ability to control the level of their torpor because it makes them vulnerable to predators. As soon as they come out of torpor, hummingbirds stretch and then seek out food.

A Hitchiti Tale: Why the Hummingbird Drinks Nectar

Although hummingbirds eat insects, most of the energy needed to fuel their metabolism comes from the nectar they sip from flowers. This story from the Hitchiti people in the southeastern United States explains why hummingbirds drink nectar instead of eating fish. You may see similarities between this tale and "The Tortoise and the Hare."

Hummingbird and Heron were friends even though they looked different. Both birds liked to eat fish, but fish were becoming scarce.

Hummingbird said, "There is not enough fish left for both of us. Let's race—whoever wins will own all the fish in the world."

Heron said, "Great idea! Let's race toward the big dead tree that lies on the bank of the river four days' distance from here."

"Agreed," said Hummingbird. "I will win because my wings beat swiftly."

Heron disagreed. "Mine are wider and will carry me farther."

On the first day of the race, Hummingbird was distracted by some flowers. When he saw Heron ahead of him, Hummingbird beat his wings to catch up. After flying for several hours, Hummingbird was exhausted and took a nap. He slept all night.

The next morning Heron was far ahead, as he had flown all night. Although Hummingbird flew like the wind, flapping his tiny wings so fast that the other birds couldn't even see them, the flowers and the promise of tasty nectar distracted him again.

For two more days, Heron flew slowly but steadily toward the big dead tree. When Hummingbird flew, he flew quickly, but he also stopped often to rest and to sip nectar. On the fourth morning, Hummingbird woke from his sleep and flew to the big dead tree, only to find Heron perched there waiting for him to arrive. From that day forward, Heron has eaten fish, and Hummingbird has sipped the nectar he so enjoyed during the race.


Excerpted from HUMMINGBIRDS by Jeanette Larson Adrienne Yorinks Copyright © 2011 by Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    My Review: This is my third book review regarding the Hummingbirds. Authors Jeannette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks give us more detailed information about Hummingbirds useful to students and birdwatchers, who are interested in hummingbirds. This book gives an account of their ecology, behavior, flight pattern and vocalizations. It answers questions like "Why the Hummingbird's Throat is Red? How the Hummingbird drink nectar? Why Hummingbird is a Fearless Warrior amongst others. Do you know that Hummingbirds has been the inspiration for legends and stories? One of the stories tells about how fire came to the world a second time and why the Hummingbird's throat is red.

    This story about the scientific facts and folktale of the Hummingbirds is told on beautiful fabric illustrations. The last few pages includes a glossary, additional reading for kids, bibliography, tale sources, resources, a list of hummingbird sanctuaries, websites and art notes for Hummingbird: facts and folklore from Americas. Recommend for classroom teaching and school libraries.

    FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion in any way

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2011

    Flies High!

    Great book. Very unique in that it combines facts and stories. Beautifully illustrated. Great for anyone who loves hummingbirds, not just children.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)