Read an Excerpt
To have hummingbirds buzzing about my backyard is a wish that I share with the millions of other North Americans who, like me, station feeders or plant hummingbird gardens to attract them. My life is brightened by the flashy appearance of these feathered jewels, out of all proportion to their size.
There is a freshness to every encounter with a hummingbird, as if it had a unique power to appeal to childlike perception. The special qualities of this group seem to revive and sustain our fascination with, and faith in, the creative powers of Nature.
The significance of hummingbirds to New World peoples has persisted in Mexican folklore, which often depicts hummingbirds holding up the baby Jesus' diapers. This iconography arose, it is thought, when the Spanish, in an effort to convert Native Americans to Christianity, adopted the return of the hummingbirds as a symbol of the Resurrection.
Hummingbirds also make a profound impression on the European mind. Perhaps none of the early naturalists expressed the wonder at this new found family of birds more cogently than John Lawson, who, in 1709, wrote in A New Voyage to Carolina:"The humming-bird is the miracle of all our winged animals."
The hummingbird chattering at my study window, imploring me to hang my feeder promptly, I'm sure, is the same individual who buzzed about my deck, supping from my feeder last summer. When I go out to investigate, he reappears, stalling only a foot in front of my face. He shuttles back and forth, chattering loudly, before making a beeline to the empty space where the feeder should be hung. He hovers there, as if making an accusatory pause in our visualcommunication. The message is clear, as is the demonstration that this hummingbird possess a memory of where the feeder was as my role in replenishing it.
Such a relationship with a wild creature is rare. When the creature is as colorful and dynamic as a hummingbird, the sense of privilege and responsibility is deeply felt.