Author: Giuseppina Schiavone
‘The story of the hummingbird is about this huge forest being consumed by a fire.
All the animals in the forest come out and they are transfixed as they watch the forest burning and they feel very overwhelmed, very powerless, except this little hummingbird.
It says, ‘I’m going to do something about the fire!’
So it flies to the nearest stream and takes a drop of water. It puts it on the fire, and goes up and down, up and down, up and down, as fast as it can.
In the meantime all the other animals, much bigger animals—like the elephant with a big trunk that could bring much more water—they are standing there helpless.
And they are saying to the hummingbird, ‘What do you think you can do? You are too little. This fire is too big. Your wings are too little and your beak is so small that you can only bring a small drop of water at a time.’
But as they continue to discourage it, it turns to them without wasting any time and it tells them ‘I am doing the best I can.’1
– as narrated by Professor Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmental and political activist, founder of the Green Belt Movement, Peace Nobel Laureate in 2004.
The parable of the hummingbird originates within the Quechan people of South America, Peru region, and has a simple message, as Maathai sums it up perfectly: “We should always be like a hummingbird. I may feel insignificant, but I certainly don’t want to be like the animals watching the planet goes down the drain. I will be a hummingbird. I will do the best I can.”2
I have heard this parable for the first time at the Driving business towards the Sustainable Development Goals course by the Erasmus University Rotterdam on coursera and it soon resonated with the contribution I wanted to bring with SAAC helping and stimulating organization to take actions, through small steps within their operational boundaries, becoming more responsible and accountable with respect to current and future generations.
SAAC logo is a digital hummingbird symbolizing the power of data analytics as a tool to do the best we can for driving sustainable development.
About the hummingbird
The hummingbirds or Colibris3 include more than 300 species, along with the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, of about 5 cm. They are migratory4 birds occurring from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and mostly found in the tropics around the equator.
They are specialized nectarivores and co-evolved with the flowers upon which they feed over a period of 20 to 40 millions of years, in a so called plant-bird mutualistic network. Their name originates from the humming sound produced by their flapping wings during hovering and fast forward flight, reaching 12 and up to 80 beats per second depending on the species. These rapid movements are sustained by their high metabolism, the highest of all animals, with heart rate reaching as high as 1,260 beats per minute even at rest. To counterbalance at night or at any time food is not available they enter in seep-sleep state (torpor) which lower their metabolism and prevent energy reserves from falling to a critical level.
They spend an average of 10–15% of their time feeding and 75–80% sitting and digesting. Due to their fast metabolism they need to eat more than twice their size in nectar each day. This can amount to hundreds of flowers. In South America some hummingbirds need to eat particular flowers in order to survive5.
As a result, with the growing destruction of natural habitat and the use of chemical pesticides for agriculture, hummingbirds are threatened to extinction. Sadly, eight species of hummingbirds are on the “Critically Endangered” list compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Critically Endangered means there is a 50% chance these birds will be extinct in the next ten years.6-7
The amazing characteristics of this bird and its tightness with the flora make this animal full of spiritual and symbolic meanings: it is symbol of love, joy and happiness, light and lightness, passion, humility, intelligence, energy and courage, wisdom and patience, it is a ‘rainbow bird’, it is a messenger of peace between worlds, it brings hope, good luck and it has healing power.
“It is believed that if you keep chasing your goal or dream even when things get hard then the hummingbird will help guide you in choosing the right path”8