Why hummingbirds?

Why are hummingbirds used as a symbol for the diabetic condition? By Sue Marshall, with help from Wikipedia and Caribpeople emagazine, and Google.

For a while I’ve wanted to get an emblem created for Desang, although I did wonder about the link between these pretty, nectar-addicted birds and our medical condition. Hummingbirds seem to have become a symbol of diabetes – a condition notorious for the problems it causes patients in controlling damaging high blood sugar levels. Sugar is bad for us – at least too much sugar is; but let’s face it, for anyone who’s ever had a hypo, sugar is a mighty fine thing to bring your levels back up!

Desang was set up to provide information and products for people living with diabetes. We’d added a little hummingbird outline to our image. Created by Gabriella Fash, it captures the idea of living a sweet life, flying freely, but if you read further you will see that the symbol is also one that inspires you to do something rather than do nothing at all. Once you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you might as well deal with it, take control and get on with it.

Hummingbirds are small long-billed tropical American birds able to hover by beating their wings extremely fast. They feed on nectar, the sugary fluid produced by flowers to encourage pollination by insects, made into honey by bees. In Greek and Roman mythology nectar was the drink of the gods.
The link between diabetes and ‘sweetness’ goes right back to the Greeks.

Diabetes is an ancient disease. As far back as 1500 B.C. its symptoms were written down on an Egyptian papyrus. Later, in the first century the Greek physician Aretaeus described a malady in which the body “ate its own flesh” and gave off large quantities of urine. He named the disease diabetes from the Greek word, which means siphon or to pass through. Much later, in the 17th century, the word ‘mellitus’ was added to distinguish it from a similar disease, diabetes insipidus, in which large amounts of urine were also passed. The word ‘mellitus’ comes from the Latin word for honey and indicates the sweet nature of the urine. In China, diabetes is called ‘tong liu beng’, which translates as ‘sweet urine disease’. Many in the Caribbean community simply say, “I got sugar.”

Some facts about hummers
Hummingbirds go for nectar, a high-octane sugar, and their English name derives from the characteristic hum made by their wings. Like bees, they are able to assess the amount of sugar in the nectar they eat; they reject flower types that produce nectar which is less than 15% sugar and prefer those whose sugar content is around 25%.
They can fly backwards, and are the only group of birds able to do so. However, hummingbirds do not spend all day flying, as the energy costs of this would be prohibitive; the majority of their activity consists simply of sitting or perching. With the exception of insects, hummingbirds while in flight have the highest metabolism of all animals, a necessity in order to support the rapid beating of their wings. They typically consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to do so they must visit hundreds of flowers daily. At any given moment, they are only hours away from starving.

Some thoughts about hummers in flight
Pam L. Hendrickson, writing on the DesertUSA site, says: “John James Audubon called hummingbirds ‘glittering fragments of rainbows.’ Others have likened them to ‘flying jewels.’ The poet D. H. Lawrence once observed, ‘…it [a hummingbird] is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.’ Metaphors aside, ‘hummers’ are indeed, infinitely delightful. These iridescent ‘flower birds,’ or, ‘flower kissers,’ as the Brazilians call them, were considered gifts from the gods by the Native Americans. These amusing, captivating and miraculous feathered creatures can also be pugnacious, perverse and mysterious. With a constant buzzing and whirring sound, hummers almost seem immune to gravity and other physical laws. They fly upside down, forward and backwards. They perform free-falls and barrel-rolls with precision and dizzying speed.”

Hummingbirds and meaningful change
In a book entitled, Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment, Michael Nico Yahgulanaas tells a hummingbird parable which originated with the Quechuan people of South America. This has become a talisman for environmentalists and activists who are committed to making meaningful change in the world. In this inspiring story, the determined hummingbird does everything she can to put out a raging fire that threatens her forest home. The hummingbird — here symbolising wisdom and courage — demonstrates that doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

Sue Marshall says, “I hope you like the new addition to the Desang logo — our own hummingbird symbol, designed by Gabriella Fash.”

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