The hummingbirds have been abundant this year. We’ve seen the broadtail, our “usual” visitor, the calliope, an occasional, and, for the first time I can remember, the rufous.
At my sister-in-law’s high mountain home, broadtails and the bully rufous surround her cabin so thickly, they barricade the door. The rufous push and shove the broadtails with a violent forcefulness that seems almost human.
Tiny as they are, in myths throughout the Americas, hummingbirds are powerful agents of creation — or deities themselves. To the Arawak Indians, the hummingbird was the procurer of sacred tobacco seeds; to Hopi and Zuni peoples, the hummer brings rain, so that dances and ceremonies are made invoking the bird to intercede with the god of rain; to the Aztec, the hummingbird — Huitzilopochitli — was a god of sun and war; and the Mayans believed that the hummer taught the other birds to make strong nests.
In Mexican folk medicinal lore, the bird’s strong heart — which beats fifty to seventy-five times a second — is a cure for many illnesses, physical and spiritual. This extraordinary heart sustains the diminutive creatures on annual migrations clear across the Gulf of Mexico.
Until perhaps the last decade, it was rare for a hummingbird to appear in our garden. I like to believe that when the broadtails first started coming, they were drawn by the flowers I’d planted to attract them — largely the same as the ones that bring butterflies: phlox, monarda, hyssop… The truth probably has more to do with the fact that their mountain territories have been eaten away by housing developments. And likely something to do, as well, with climate change.
I am delighted to have them. First one visitor, then two and four and this year many more, mostly in August and early September.