The Little Hummingbird
Updated: Apr 13, 2021
We live in a big world with a lot of big world issues. Every day it seems like we are faced with new challenges on a global scale and so often it feels nearly impossible to make a difference. When I feel that way I like to think of a traditional Quechua story about a little hummingbird. The Quechua people live throughout South America but are thought to have originated in Peru. The traditional story has made its way through traditional knowledge channels, eventually being made into a book by Haida author, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. The premise of the story is essentially that a fire starts in the forest and all of the animals run except for the little hummingbird. The hummingbird instead goes to the nearby lake, picks up a droplet of water in her beak and brings it back to the fire. After doing this over and over the other animals ask what the hummingbird is doing? She can't possibly put out the fire one drop at a time by herself. The response from her is that she is doing what she can. It is a simple but in my opinion, powerful message. This simple notion of doing what I can drives my every day actions and the hummingbird as the messenger brings greater meaning to creating a wildlife friendly yard.
Although the hummingbirds that share the land with the Quechua people will not be the same ones we see in Alberta, the ones we do see have travelled in same cases thousands of kilometers from wintering homes in Mexico to our Alberta backyards. Along the way they have depended on shelter, food and water being available before getting to us. With that in mind and the knowledge that by the time they reach here, they have been successful in finding what they need, many times through the small actions of others, I do my best to help these birds and all the other wildlife who share the landscape with us. I turn off lights at night and try to make my windows visible to birds to prevent window strikes, I provide fresh water and food where I can and above all, I design my garden with them and other wildlife in mind. By ensuring that the plants that provide the insects and nectar they need to survive are living in my yard, I feel as if I have added my small droplet to the forest.
The beautiful thing is that we can all do this. Even the smallest of yards can provide shelter or food for a migrating bird or a hungry bee. We don't all have room for mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) or fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) but even a small beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) can provide sustenance for a hummingbird, bee or butterfly. Planting conifers that can provide not only shelter but sap and insects can make a huge difference as well. Having a birdbath, pond or fountain with fresh water is so important to keep everyone hydrated on their journeys.
I like to think of the big picture and realize how everything is connected and then I scale it down to the little things that I can do to help. By doing what each of us can, we can make a positive difference.
More information about Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas and his work can be found here: https://mny.ca/en/work/13/Flight%20of%20the%20Hummingbird and here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7283337-the-little-hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna) on a lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) in my backyard, August 2020
Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), a wonderful choice for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Mountain Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis). A stunning, long blooming plant that takes up a lot of space if it's happy! Bees flock to it as well as hummingbirds.
Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium). One of my personal favorites, fireweed is exceptional for bees and hummingbirds. It is also a host plant for several butterfly and moth species and provides a hiding and feeding spot for many smaller birds including wrens. It is great at filling in a large space as it spreads by its roots and all parts of it are edible for people as well.