Derek Gores "And She Knows It Fiercely" (detail)
There are over 350 species in the Hummingbird family, as various as Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in existence at just two inches in length, and the Andean Red-tailed Comet, which has a spectacular nine-inch red and gold iridescent tail. All hummingbirds are native to the Americas and drink nectar from flowers, supplementing those sugars with proteins from insects and spiders. Hummingbirds can hover in midair, flapping their wings as many as 80 times per second, and some can fly at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. No other species of birds can fly backwards. When in flight, they have the highest metabolism of all animals, with heart rates reaching up to 1,260 beats per minute.
The Aztecs often wore hummingbird talismans and fetishes, considering them a symbol of vigor, energy and skill with weapons, due to the birds’ facility with their sharp, penetrating beaks. The Aztec god of war Huitzilopochtli was often depicted as a hummingbird, and it was believed that the bravest warriors might return to earth as hummingbirds. One of the mysterious Nazca Lines of southern Peru, believed to be more than 15 centuries old, depicts a hummingbird in flight. All hummingbird species are at risk to one degree or another as a result of insecticides and deforestation, and many, including the Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird, the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird, the Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird, the Juan Fernandez Firecrown, and the Turquoise-throated Puffleg Hummingbird, are on the brink of extinction.