The Symbolism of Hummingbirds Throughout History

Pet Care


January 18, 2022

There are many, many reasons why hummingbirds have been focused on and loved throughout the history of recorded history. These small, beautiful creatures have striking colors and move through the air in ways that no other bird does.

Plenty of people from a variety of backgrounds and cultural upbringings have attributed meanings, symbolism, and other aspects to hummingbirds. Even if that symbolism does not remain as prominently today as it once did, many of the beliefs still carry into today’s times, leaving people feeling touched when a hummingbird visits them.

How Are Hummingbirds Represented in History?

Hummingbirds are exclusively found in the western hemisphere of the world, with approximately half of their 340+ species being found across the Americas. Some of these species migrate through North America while the vast majority of hummingbirds remain in South America and Central America year-round. In these locations, hummingbirds are often viewed as mystical, spiritual, and otherwise supernatural.

These are the areas of the world where hummingbirds are most prominently featured in terms of symbolism and meaning, but historically they have been seen throughout Africa and Asia as well. One of the first descriptions of a hummingbird that made it back to the Old World was written in 1557 by Jean de Léry in one of his journals detailing travels throughout Brazil.

It is theorized that hummingbirds were once native in Europe, as there have been fossils of their remains found in Germany. Unfortunately, hummingbirds have long since moved on from this area of the world and there are very few remains of hummingbirds outside of the western hemisphere, whether it be in records, fossils, or other forms of symbolism.

Have Hummingbirds Always Had Symbolic Significance?

It would make sense that, at one point or another, people did not regard hummingbirds with the same awe and fascination that people have today. With that being said, in many cultures around the world, hummingbirds have always had a place of their own. For example, in many Native American societies, hummingbirds have been a part of stories and tales that are passed through generations.

While the significance of the hummingbird was less symbolic, over 300 species of hummingbirds were kept in the Crystal Palace of London around 1851. What this means is that even if a spiritual meaning was not ascribed to the hummingbirds, they were still valued for their gorgeous and vivid coloration oceans apart from where they were typically found.

It can be extrapolated, then, that hummingbirds have always held some sort of importance, no matter the culture or society where they are found. This makes sense, as hummingbirds have always had a rather unique appearance compared to other birds that are commonly found in the same areas. People still value being able to see hummingbirds, whether they are held by royalty or whether they are spiritual animals.

The Differences That Regions Have on Symbolism

In different areas of the world, having a hummingbird visit would have a different meaning. For some, hummingbirds relate to legends, myths, and tales, meaning that the sight of one would elicit some type of connection with the hummingbird. For others, the hummingbird meant much more, playing pivotal roles in the culture of an area.

Generally speaking, areas where hummingbirds stay year-round often put more importance on the hummingbird than areas where hummingbirds were purely migratory animals. For instance, in Navajo culture, it was thought that when hummingbirds do their mating dive, they were going to see what was above the blue sky. Most hummingbirds in the southwestern United States, where the Navajo were located, were migratory.

Now consider the difference in symbolism in areas where hummingbirds stay year-round. In Central America, hummingbirds played a prominent religious role in Aztec society. In fact, the patron god of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli, was also known as the Hummingbird Wizard, with numerous aspects of hummingbirds incorporated into his appearance, with the Aztecs also believing that they would be reincarnated into hummingbirds if they died in battle.

Common Examples of Hummingbirds and Their Meanings

The symbolism and meaning of the hummingbird can vary wildly throughout the world, with meanings ranging from being as simple as being jewels in the sky to having complex myths and legends told about them. With that being said, there are many common themes that are held between these cultures that cross oceans and centuries.

Hummingbirds are almost always seen as supportive, helpful, and benevolent creatures in some form. Some cultures viewed hummingbirds as protectors, guardians, and healers of the earth. Others viewed hummingbirds as a creature of beauty, fertility, and wealth. Even in societies where hummingbirds were not seen as inherently benevolent, they were seen as having some form of mythical quality to them.

An example of this can be seen with some of the beliefs of pilgrims as they settled into the New World. One of the earlier beliefs they had was that hummingbirds would stick their beaks into the trunks of trees, ultimately ending their lives. However, they would be resurrected again as spring came. This likely reflects how most hummingbirds found on the eastern coast of the United States are migratory, leaving the area during autumn and appearing again during the spring.

Are These Beliefs Still Held Today?

It is hard to say how much many of these beliefs hold up. Part of this is due to the fact that some of these societies, such as Incans, Aztecs, and Mayans have been lost to time. Part of this is due to the fact that nowadays, people have a better understanding of why hummingbirds engage in the behaviors they do, such as their mating dives and their migration patterns.

What is known is that, in many regards, the symbolism that is held regarding hummingbirds is still kept. People often find themselves fascinated by hummingbirds for one reason or another, which can lead to people being more receptive of the symbolism that these birds carry with them. More often than not, you will be able to find someone saying that hummingbirds are spiritual creatures, and when a hummingbird chooses to visit you, there is a reason for it.

What Would Make a Hummingbird Choose to Visit You?

If you find yourself wondering what does it mean when a hummingbird visits you, you will find that there are quite a few reasons why hummingbirds choose to do this. On a spiritual level, many people believe that hummingbirds are good omens, bringing good news and signaling that any current struggles are drawing to a close. On a practical level, hummingbirds are inquisitive and bold creatures and likely understand that you are the one who supplies the feeders, so they may be searching you for more food.

When looking at hummingbird visits from a spiritual and symbolic level, hummingbirds are ubiquitously thought to bring good news. They are seen as bringing fortune and good tidings. If you see a hummingbird after the passing of a loved one, it is often seen as your loved one’s spirit visiting you. When hummingbirds stop to hover near you, some people believe that it is a sign that you need to be more patient and to trust in yourself.

When looking at hummingbird visits from a more practical standpoint, it often means one of two things. It could be that the hummingbird is curious about you and is bold enough to fly close to you. It could also be that the hummingbird recognizes that you are the one who provides sugar water, and the hummingbird is impatiently waiting for more food.

The Takeaway

Throughout the history of humans and hummingbirds existing together, hummingbirds are almost exclusively seen as being supernatural creatures in one way or another. Some cultures only see hummingbirds as curious creatures that want to see what is beyond the skies. Other cultures celebrate and praise hummingbirds as being symbols of their patron gods.

No matter where in the world people are, hummingbirds are generally loved and desired. As such, it is thought that when hummingbirds visit people, it is a sign of good fortune, good omens, and that there is peace in your future.