Hummingbirds, little rays of sunshine that wander fleetingly through suburban gardens are the smallest bird species on Earth and perhaps the most symbolic in the history of Mexico City.
The Aztecs were master observers of their surroundings, specifically when it came to the small details that led to transcendental changes in their lands. Such was the case of the tiny hummingbirds that made trees and weeds blossom with their mere presence. Their being, as ephemeral as air, made the Mexicas believe that they brought good luck and that is probably why the Sun God Huitzilopochtli adorned his headdress with symbols regarding this tiny bird. Huitzilin or Huitzil as named in Nahuatl, are mentioned in the most popular and ancient Aztec legend which narrates the quest for their promised land, Mexico’s Valley:
Continue your search after the rainy days have passed, follow the small rays of sunshine clad with tiny flower suckle lances… they are the Huitzilin, sons of Huitzilopochtli, they’ll lead you to the eagle standing on the cactus devouring the snake.
Their beautiful figure is present on many ancient objects, murals and Aztec codices. The Mexicas believed that their fallen warriors, after having traveled to the world of the dead, would reincarnate as these small birds; their spirits accompanied the Sun God as fiery multicolored rays. Another ancient belief concerning hummingbirds belongs to the Mayan culture, which considered hummingbirds the last animals created by the gods. They were in charge of taking their wishes and thoughts from one place to another. They were also related to the motions of wind, rain and other unpredictable and chaotic forces, which they believed were magical in nature.
The ancient legends of pre-Columbian Mexico hold a beautiful metaphysical nature. The capacity of imagining a sacred origin and mission to the worlds existing creatures result in a complex poetry with profound meanings and lessons.
Scientific classification and surprising facts
Their scientific classification is slightly complicated. Foremostly, they belong to the Apodiformes order (from Greek, meaning without “podos”, or feet, which alludes to the size of their legs), which is in itself grouped in the small bird family: Trochilidae. Solely in America, we’re fortunate enough to have this type of bird discretely invade our skies with over 100 genuses of Trochilidae, distributed throughout 340 species, all with singular peaks and colors. Some surprising facts about this beautiful bird are:
Hummingbirds are reclusive and aggressive. They travel alone and are capable of casting away any other hummingbirds–whether they’re male or female–, from their territory when they feel threatened. Depending on their species, some of them can be hermits (like the golirayado); they tend to be more vocal and are distinguishable for their acute harmonies that echoe in forests.
Predators of a species threatened by future extinction
Hummingbirds are not an endangered species; however, they might be in the future. Most of their predators lurk in the skies: falcons, owls and crows; although there are also some land animals such as coyotes, cats, tarantulas and mantises. Considering climate change and the menaces that result from the deterioration and destruction of their natural habitats, we’ve become their biggest threat. These destructive practices date all the way to the Victorian era, when thousands of these birds were exported and killed with the purpose of embellishing the royal’s hats and over-the-top clothes with their feathers.
Hummingbirds in Mexico City
Mexico is home to around 60 hummingbird species that migrate from Canada and the United States during the Autumn. Approximately 15 of these species are native to the city, which is why, we can get a fleeting look at one of these birds almost every season of the year. The most common species in town is the Chlorostilbon auriceps, “emerald with a golden crown.”
A few years ago, UNAM’s Higher Studies Faculty in Iztacala built the first artificial mating garden for hummingbirds, with an average of 150 red flowers native to Mexico City.
The first store in Mexico devoted to make handmade hummingbird feeders
Camino Silvestre is the first shop in Mexico City devoted to in the contemplation of hummingbirds and other wild bird species. They specialize in handmade feeders made with recycled materials from San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. When they first opened, they only exported their products to the United States; however, their demand was so big that they now have a store in colonia Roma. In addition to marvelous feeders of all sizes made with second-hand materials, the store offers interior and exterior decorations, including some instruments for bird watchers: binoculars, bird observation guides, books and a countless number of bird-themed toys and jewelry. They’re also behind the International Hummingbirds Festival, where several Mexican and foreign experts, such as ornithologists, biologists and sociologists gather.
Address: Tabasco 195, Roma Norte, Mexico City.
Tuesday-Saturday: from 11:00 to 19:00 hrs. Sunday from 12:00 to 17:00 hrs.
Prepare your own hummingbird nectar
You need four cups of boiling water and 1 cup of sugar. Pour the sugar in the water, mix and let it cool. The liquid must be changed every 2 hours; every 6 during cold weather seasons.
Attract more hummingbirds
You must be highly observant in order to figure out which flowers hummingbirds like, but you could start by, for example, increasing the amount of food in the feeders to try to gain their attention.
You can also hang red tape near the feeders, since that’s their favorite color, and try placing fruit peels outside to attract mosquitoes, and thus, hummingbirds. Don’t forget to place small posts near the feeders so they can stop and rest.
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood has for a millennia history offered resistance, rebellion, and hope. Tenochtitlan relegated dissidents to Tepito’s crooked alleys. The “brave neighborhood,” even hundreds of years later, is still marginalized and bent on survival. Somehow residents seem to bear that history in the very DNA.
With a reputation for violence, deprivation, and overcrowding, some of the great characters of Mexican history have come from Tepito. The cradle of Mexican boxing, in the 1970s an important literary movement emerged in Tepito, and the neighborhood has contributed as much to the culture of the city and country as have many, much wealthier places.
Among all the stories of people whose hard work is performed with an enviable dignity, there are thousands of women who carry out similar work for their families. Resident Mayra Valenzuela Rojas remarked, “In Tepito there’s a matriarchy (…) Every woman has her own story. Each of us is a spark, but together we are lighting a candle for Tepito.”
German photographer, Anja Jensen, is currently exhibiting her work in a show called “Ciudadanas-Caminamos a oscuras” (Citizens-We Walk in the Dark). Having spent months in Tepito, she’s documented the women challenging the stereotypes of the neighborhood.
Jensen was assaulted and threatened, but she was also clothed and cared for by the women who opened their stories and lives to her. The result is a series photographs, “Las Cabronas de Tepito,” (Bad Girls of Tepito) a collective portrait of the matriarchy whose fervor makes the neighborhood better and regularly improves the lives of the people living there.
The photographs will be exhibited through February 12, 2017, as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, at the German Pavilion on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, in Roma Norte.